Dispelling the Myths About Indian Gaming

Periodically we receive inquiries from current NARF donors and potential supporters asking why Native Americans need any assistance at all in light of the success of Indian casinos. In response to these inquiries, we’d like to take this opportunity to address this issue and help you, our friends, better understand Indian gaming and how revenues generated from these sources are being utilized by tribes.

Gaming Has Not Significantly Impacted Most Native Americans

There is a growing belief in American society that Indians have struck it rich with the establishment of Indian casinos. This is hardly possible when you consider that unemployment among adult Indians is about 15 percent – roughly three times the national average – and Native Americans remain America’s poorest people.

Gaming on Indian reservations has not appreciably lowered the high levels of poverty on Indian lands nationwide. According to a “Survey of Grant Giving by American Indian Foundations and Organizations” by Native Americans in Philanthropy, the needs of reservation Indians are so great that even if the total annual Indian gaming revenue in the country could be divided equally among all the Indians in the country, the amount distributed per person would still not be enough to raise Indian per capita income (currently $11,259) to anywhere near the national average of $21,587. Of the more than 560 Indian nations, only 224 are involved in gaming. Many tribes may never participate in gaming because of their geographic location in rural, unpopulated areas.

The Few Successful Tribes

“Although gaming continues to be an Indian Country success story, not all tribes – gaming and non-gaming are much better off than they were 17 years ago.”
– American Indian Report

Among the reasons for the disparity between perception and reality is the attention given to the few tribal gaming operations that have seen spectacular success – such as the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe in Connecticut and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Minnesota. However, these operations are the exception, rather than the rule. As small tribes located near major urban areas, these successful gaming operations have benefited the most from the gaming boom generating 40% of all Indian gaming revenue. The remaining 175 tribal operations are only marginally profitable.

Successful Tribes Should Not Be Punished for Their Success

Gaming operations have enabled a number of tribes to reduce unemployment on their reservations. These tribes must concentrate their gaming revenues to create and maintain tribal police, fire and ambulance services; health and child-care services, educational assistance programs, cultural enhancement, and numerous other human service programs. Thus, the notion that the federal government should make rich tribes share their wealth with poorer ones is absurd and, more importantly, illegal. If the state of Michigan generates extra money from its lottery, the federal government doesn’t take money away from Michigan and give it to Mississippi. Remember, each of these tribes is a sovereign nation with their rights guaranteed by treaties and the Constitution of the United States.

Indian Gaming is not a Major Threat to Private and State-Run Gambling

Finally, there is a widespread misconception that Indian gaming is taking money away from private enterprises and state operations. The truth is that all Indian gaming operations in the United States account for only 21% of total gaming industry.

Thank you for taking the time to read and share this information. We know that Indian gaming can be a confusing subject, so we will do our best to keep you apprised of the latest data and any new developments on this subject on our website.

To request copies of the brochure “Dispelling the Myths About Indian Gaming,” please contact the Development Department at 303-447-8760.