Native American Gold Rush: Indian Casinos Are Thriving

native casinos

Native American reservations had long been associated with something depressing, shabby and poor. Scattered along far corners of the US states they were cradles of poverty and crime. But all was wonderfully changed in the 1980s when casinos came to the Native American lands and the golden rush began.

In the 19th and for the most part of the 20th centuries American Indian tribes had to suffer from poverty and lack of means for existence. They could hardly survive from what they had got as social welfare payments and from farming their lands. So, to the 1980th reservations started to seem as not the best idea at all, due to the massive exodus of American Indians to big cities and the dissolution of the Native American community as a whole.

It all changed in the 1980s. Some Indian tribes wanted to make some money in order to survive. They were faced with the gradual dying out and dissolving. The solution to that crucial problem was the one – to establish the gambling industry within reservations.

It’s a well-known fact that the casino and gambling industry is a very lucrative business. Since American Indians are independent nations under the federal US legislation they can do whatever they want within the boundaries of their reservations. So, approximately 30 years ago some Indian tribes began to establish lotteries with jackpots higher than ones of official state lotteries. Of course, the authorities didn’t welcome such initiative. But Indians didn’t stop their struggle.

After the states’ governments tried to ban some Indian lotteries, tribal representatives sued them. Their lawsuits were primarily based on the fact that Indians had the national gambling industry for several hundred years. As a result, tribes won several cases and in 1987 the US Supreme Court issued the bill according to which the state authorities couldn’t regulate the gambling business in reservations if the state’s legislation allowed gambling. In the next year, 1988, the US President had signed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. According to that, tribes had got the right to open casinos on their territories and all games were subdivided into 3 classes. The 1st class is the Indian traditional ceremonial games, the 2nd class is bingo, lotto, instant lotteries card games (except blackjack and baccarat) and the 3rd class consists of traditional casino games (roulette, slot machines, racing games etc). 1st and 2nd classes are not licensed and all revenue comes directly to the tribal budget, but it can be spent only for social welfare and charity. The Indians who want to establish casinos on their territory have to sign the contract with the state and conditions of this contract depend on the state’s legislation.

Since that, Indians cannot longer be considered the poorest part of the US population. Their revenues are thriving and even the general casinos’ decline in 2008 and 2009 didn’t change the situation. If we look on the statistic data we will see that in 2011 the annual Indian casino revenue was 27154 million USD. It’s greater than ever. The number of operations remains similarly high and growing, almost unchangeable in last 3 years, with 419 in 2009, 422 in 2010 and 421 in 2011.

native casinos revenue

These figures are very promising. Some Indian tribes can even be called the richest. It’s not surprising that the America’s richest Indian tribe, Shakopee Mdewakanton, based in California, has almost 100% of unemployment. With only 460 members they make great money from numerous casinos and gambling institutions and they are proud that almost nobody of them has to work for their living. Tribal members own multiple homes and are on vacation for most part of the year. Figures also show that Sacramento tribes get the biggest revenue, which is of 6903 million USD as for the year 2011. Washington D.C. Tribes’ revenue is close to this sum – 6716 million USD. The third place is taken by St. Paul’s tribes: they earn 4565 million USD. However, St. Paul’s tribes are leaders in the number of operations – 119 in the last year.

annual native casino revenue

So, as you see, Indian casino businesses are still thriving and successful. Whether good or not for Native communities, now you maybe understand, why so many celebrities are all suddenly “rediscovering” their “Indian roots”…


Image Copyright by Moyan Brenn

Data Source: National Indian Gaming Commission


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