As long as Indian casinos have existed, the debate on their revival or demise to Native American tribes is just as prevalent. The pros and cons of casinos on American Indian lands is a longstanding argument since the building of the first casino. On one hand, the argument is that casinos are a scourge on reservations, causing irreparable social damage to the community while harming the environment. On the other hand, the money generated by these casinos is boasted as a godsend to reservations where jobs are limited, and cash for social programs is just as sparse.
The balance of the casino on the reservation where providing enough funds to help more social programs than creating more social issues is the task of Native American tribes as well as to persist as autonomous governments, demonstrating success in their culture while promoting pride for each tribal member on the reservation.
The ability of Indian casinos to generate money is understandably not part of the debate; casinos definitely increase the financial aspect for the reservation. The question is who pockets the profits?One argument against Indian casinos is that investors, not the Native American tribes, are the true winners.
From the TIME Magazine, article “Look Who’s Cashing in on Indian Casinos,” Donald L. Bartlett and James B. Steele find hundreds of millions of dollars go to the outside investors of an Indian casino. The article discloses that in 2001, Indian casinos accumulated $12.7 billion in revenues, estimating that the tribes profited around $5 billion. Bartlett and Steele go on to explain that only a small amount of Indian casinos provide money to tribal members, which tends to include smaller tribes near urban areas like the Californian Table Mountain Rancheria tribe. Bartlett and Steele indicate that most Indian casinos barely break even.
So why do they continue to build Indian casinos? Bartlett and Steele mention how the largest reservation, the Navajo Nation, opposed construction of Indian casinos because of religious reasons.
However, in 2008, the Fire Rock Casino opened on the Navajo Nation north of Gallup, NM. Putting aside the warnings from the Navajo legend of The Great Gambler who nearly loses his life through gambling and overindulgence, the Navajos could no longer ignore the promise of increasing their revenue by $32 million, approximately one-fifth of the tribe’s annual budget, with the construction of a casino on the Navajo Nation. Felicia Fonseco’s article “Navajo nation opens first casino” in the Santa Fe New Mexican, states that poverty, and an unemployment rate of over 50 percent, led to the decision to build Fire Rock Casino as a way to stimulate economic development.
Economic development on reservations remained elusive prior to casinos because investment by private monies was not forthcoming. Judith Antel, Audie Blevins, and Katherine Jensen, in the Journal of the Community Development Society, state in their article, “American Indian casino gambling: issues of tribal sovereignty and economic development,” that Indian casinos lure private money investors to the reservations. The outside capital investors generate their millions as detailed by Bartlett and Steele, but this outside money allows poverty-stricken reservations year-round employment, and an increase of revenue to tribal budgets. Also, crucial to American Indians, the reservations maintain their autonomy while increasing finances. Private investors do make money off the Indian casinos, but unlike other instances in history, Native Americans also benefit with jobs and additional budget monies.
Some tribes use the Indian casino profits to generate additional jobs. The Southern Ute Indian Tribe located in Southwest Colorado utilized Sky Ute Casino profits to create the Southern Ute Growth Fund, which encourages the diversity of businesses on the reservation and investments. Southern Ute Tribal investments include energy, private equity, real estate, construction, and materials. Through these investments, the Southern Utes are the only tribe to receive the highest rating from two credit-rating agencies. The casino revenue also enabled the Southern Utes to buy back 20 percent of the coal-bed methane leases on the reservation, benefiting from the substantial coal-bed methane reserves on the reservation, which in turn encourages more monies and employ the tribal members.
Along with economic stimulation, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe also addresses the social ramifications on the reservation, for example, the Southern Ute Community Action Programs Inc., looks into promoting neighbor and family well-being. Along with increased tourism, which means more people to the reservation of 1400 Southern Utes, they hired an additional police officer, funded by energy finances, which originated through casino profits. Education on Southern Ute history, culture, and language provided by the Montessori Academy is established from casino revenues.
The responsibility of Native American tribes is paramount in balancing casino profits for economic development as well as repair reservation social problems like domestic abuse, alcoholism, and crime. An argument can be made that Indian casinos reverses traditional American Indian culture, and places more value on the dollar. However the real call for all the bad press of Indian casinos is perhaps out of resentment that tribes finally have the ability to encourage local economic development, maintain autonomy, and take care of tribal members without outside forces dictating how the tribes run their reservations.
Since Columbus landed in 1492, outside forces have taken advantage of Native Americans, but this time, the Native Americans reap benefits as well. Indian casinos provide a chance for self-determination by American Indians, the ability to correct their own problems with programs developed specifically for their unique reservation issues, while becoming self-sufficient, and controlling their own fate.
Antel, Judith, Audie Blevins, and Katherine Jensen. “American Indian casino gambling: issues of tribal sovereignty and economic development,” Journal of the Community Development
Society, (January 1, 2001), http://www.accessmylibrary.com/article-1G1-126684852/american-indian-cas...
Bartlett, Donald L. and James B. Steele. “Look Who’s Cashing in on Indian Casinos,” TIME Magazine, (December 16, 2002), http://www.time.com/time/covers/1101021216/story_
Fonseco, Felicia. “Navajo Nation opens first casino,” The Santa Fe New Mexican, (November 15, 2008), http://www.santafenewmexican.com/Local%20News/Navajo-Nation-opensfirst-
Hubbard, Burt. “Utes have begun a major player,” Rocky Mountain News, (December 10, 2007), http://www.sugf.com/Docs/TheRockyMountainNews_
Newsome, Brian. “Tribe’s financial plan works - and gets noticed,” (December 30, 2003), Durango Herald, http://www.sugf.com/Docs/TribesFinancialPlanWorksAndGetsNoticed.pdf