10 Things You Need to Know about Indian Reservation Gambling

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I'm planning a trip back East and will be hitting my first Indian Reservation casino, which got me thinking: I know nothing about their history at all! So, after much research, here's the highlights of what I unearthed. Please share any Indian gambling experience you have in the comments below!

The Beginnings

1. The phenomenon of Indian reservation gambling began in the '70s when the Seminole tribe in Florida opened a high-stakes bingo operation, which is against Florida law. The authorities tried to shut the instant-tourist-attraction down and a slew of lawsuits followed. In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled that the State did not have the right to regulate Indian reservation activities nor could they tax reservation occupants.

2. In 1987, in the Cabazon Decision, the Supreme Court ruled that as long as a form of gambling is legal in the state where the reservation is located, the state can't regulate activities on the reservation. This decision led to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which requires reservations confer with the state before offering any games that would be played against the casino such as slots or blackjack tables. If the state refuses to negotiate—as several have—then the Secretary of the Interior works out his own deal, which is always in the favor of the Indian tribe.

Big Money

3. Indian reservation gambling generates more income than Atlantic City and Las Vegas combined. In 2009, this totaled $26.5 billion in revenue from 425 facilities, run by 233 tribes in 28 states. Tribes receive $4 of every $10 that Americans wager at casinos.

4. The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe's Foxwoods Resort and Casinos in Connecticut is one of the world's largest casinos. The resort covers 4.7 million square feet, has over 380 gaming tables, over 6,200 slot machines—the most in the world—and houses the world's largest bingo hall. The resort pays 25% of it slot revenue to the state of Connecticut as part of their deal to allow slot machines.

5. The second largest Casino in the United States, Mohegan Sun, which is operated by the Mohegan Tribe, is located just a few miles from Foxwoods Resort. Mohegan Sun sports the world's largest planetarium dome. In 2005, Mohegan Sun purchased Pocono Downs Racetrack in Pennsylvania and began operating the first slot machine casino in Pennsylvania in 2006.

6. Tribal Casinos are not always run by the tribe itself, but often by an outside management company. Harrah's manages Cherokee Casino in North Carolina, the Prairie Band Casino in Kansas and the Ak-Chin Casino in Arizona. Mohegan Sun is managed by a South African company in conjunction with the tribe. Donald Trump even tried his hand at running a reservation casino when he owned and managed the Trump 29 casino in California. It was the first Californian reservation casino to open under a non-Indian name; however Trumps ownership ended in 2006 and it's now called Spotlight 29.

So where does the money go?

7. Revenues from gaming are required to be used for tribal governmental and charitable ventures only. The revenues are exempt from federal, state, and local taxes, however there are exceptions. In the cases where the revenues are divided evenly and then distributed directly to tribal members, the federal government gets a nice cut. State taxes are often part of the agreements for large scale casinos.

8. There are 562 recognized tribes in the United States, only about 200 operate full scale casinos. There are approximately 150 additional tribes seeking recognition. Many complain that these tribes have no real membership and are only seeking to cash in on the casino business. Supporters of Native American rights point to centuries old treaties put in place to protect these unrecognized tribes. The Pequot tribe, which operates Foxwoods, received recognition in the early 1980s, after the last surviving member living on the reservation died and her grandchildren came together to recreate the tribe.

Big Controversy

9. In the mid-nineties, The Coeur D'Alene Tribe in Idaho began the National Indian Lottery on-line. This was a revolutionary idea at the time. However, it was met with much opposition and many lawsuits. The controversy stemmed from defining where the gambling took place—in the state where the gambler was playing or on the reservation where the site was based. The site was shut down in 1998, but as of November 2009 the Coeur D'Alene tribe was once again drumming up business for their upcoming on-line lottery. Stay tuned!

10. The Navajo's Fire Rock Casino has been a hotbed of an unworldly controversy. After reports of soil from an archeological site being used as landfill for the casino—which goes against Navajo beliefs concerning the dead—and debate over possible uranium in the soil, some started to suspect skinwalker curses! (Skinwalkers are people who practice a form of witchcraft in Native American legends.) The tribal leadership was determined to move forward with the project and in November, 2008, the casino opened to much fanfare. However, early morning reports surfaced of staff members seeing skinwalkers in the casino on opening day. Navajo Gaming Enterprise CEO Robert Winter assured visitors that the tribe had bestowed many protective blessings upon the casino resort and it's a great place to visit. :-)

Anyone ever been there? See any skinwalkers? Anyone ever been to any of these Indian casinos? Tell us about your experience.

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July 8, 2010 - 8:29am
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