Tribes have cleaned up a “sin” industry
(Blog) Dave Palermo: Tribes have cleaned up a “sin” industry
One of the last of more than 20 years of conversations I had with the late University of Nevada gambling scholar Bill Eadington had to do with the fact casinos were no longer regarded as a sin industry.
The two of us had witnessed the evolution of gambling from the province of Nevada and Atlantic City’s Boardwalk to nearly 40 states.
And we noted, talking last year for an article I was writing for Global Gaming Business magazine, that the notion of gambling cultivating organized crime, moral corruption and social depravity had over 2 ½ decades largely dissipated.
Much of the social acceptance of gambling had to do with the spread of 460 tribal government casinos to more than 28 states. Tribes have done an excellent job managing and regulating their facilities. They’ve also generated economic progress for nearby non-Indian communities.
Opponents to “reservation shopping” have been nullified by the need for jobs and economic growth and the realization that casinos, although morally distasteful to some, are not creating the crime, environmental destruction and social ills predicted by gambling naysayers.
Of course, tribes hire security armies, subsidize local police and enter into MOUs with county prosecutors to deal with law enforcement problems “responsible gambling” organizations funded by the commercial casino industry claim are not generated by casinos.
But the economic pluses apparently far outweigh the problems.
“[Anti-gambling] organizations seem to have lost whatever punch they had,” Eadington said. “You get communities that want casinos” for jobs and economic development, he said, “and their argument goes away.”
So what’s been the result?
Well, an accelerated growth of the commercial casino industry which, unfortunately for indigenous communities dependent on gambling revenue, has created additional competition for tribal operations.
“Tribal casinos have not only whet the appetite of the states, they’ve also made [gambling] more acceptable to their constituents,” said Michele Mitchell, a citizen and general counsel for the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe of New York.
Illinois, Florida, New York, Kentucky and Minnesota have all recently discussed legislation to permit new or expanded gambling. And Maryland, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Ohio and Massachusetts have approved commercial casinos.
A crackdown on revenue sharing by the U.S. Department of Interior, reinforced by a recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Rincon v Schwarzenegger, has diminished the ability of cash-strapped states to extract funds from tribal operations, prompting officials to consider commercial casinos rather than tribal government operations.
Even California, the nation’s largest Indian gambling market with nearly $7 billion in annual revenues, may eventually see commercial casinos.
Although tribal exclusivity for casino games is guaranteed in the state constitution, state Sen. Roderick Wright told GamblingCompliance.com, “We change the constitution all the time in California.”
Barry Brandon, executive director of Native American Financial Services, contends the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 has proven to be an economic development tool for both tribal and state governments.
“Indian casinos have brought gambling into the mainstream of society,” he said.
Of course, when IGRA was enacted tribes viewed gambling as a window of opportunity for economic and social progress on Indian lands that would soon close. Those who have diversified their economies beyond gambling are proving the most prophetic.
Meanwhile, segments of the gambling industry – once diverse – have gradually merged. Management agreements have merged tribes and commercial operators. Slot manufacturers now provide machines to tribes, commercial casinos and racetracks, which today find themselves under both commercial and tribal ownership.
Although our relationship began when I worked for the Review-Journal in Las Vegas, I recall a lunch with Eadington a decade ago at Mary Mahoney’s Old French House Restaurant in Biloxi, Miss., during which he predicted the model of hotel/casinos would soon make way to arcade gambling.
And during our last conversation he made mentioned of the articles he was writing on Internet, aka sweepstakes cafes.
There, indeed, was a prophet.
“I think, when it comes to gambling, we’ve reached a tipping point,” he said, where the national market was, indeed, becoming saturated.
“The industry has come a long way, hasn’t it?” he said.
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