Guy W. Farmer: The wonders of Indian gaming

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

Do you remember how Indian gaming was going to create thousands of jobs and earn copious profits that would save the tribes from unemployment and poverty? Do you sometimes wonder how that pie-in-the-sky proposition turned out for the tribes? I do.

An ABC News investigative report found seven years after the $40 million Apache Gold Hotel/Casino opened in San Carlos, Ariz., promising a better quality of life for tribal members, “many Apache families still crowd in small apartments or mobile homes,” and the tribal unemployment rate is rising.

I was reminded recently of similar promises by tribal leaders when I read about last October’s armed takeover of the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino in tiny Coarsegold, Calif., located in the Gold Country near Fresno. It seems a disgruntled group of Chukchansis decided to organize an armed raid to take over the tribe’s profitable casino. As a result of the messy raid federal charges were filed against 15 men including two tribal council members, the tribal security chief, and a hired security team that included a former deputy sheriff, an ex-Marine and a former Navy Seal.

The Fresno Bee reports the casino remains closed — with estimated losses in the millions each week — because of what a U.S. district judge called an “explosive keg” of emotions. One of the men involved in the takeover, 35-year-old David Dixon of Sparks, is facing felony charges of kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon and false imprisonment. This unsavory case shines a light on the entire Indian gaming industry, which competes directly with our well-regulated Nevada casinos.

Studies by University of Nevada gaming economists estimate nearby Indian casinos have delivered a heavy economic blow of approximately 20 percent to Reno/Tahoe area casinos. One of the main offenders is the huge Thunder Valley tribal casino located near I-80 east of Sacramento, which is managed by Station Casinos of Las Vegas, a Nevada gaming licensee. I don’t understand why the Nevada Gaming Commission continues to look the other way when its own rules and regulations require our licensees operate in the best interests of the people of the state of Nevada.

A toothless tiger, the National Indian Gaming Commission, is charged with regulating some 450 tribal casinos in 28 states with a staff of about 100 employees, a smaller staff than that of the Nevada’s gaming control agencies, which regulate far fewer casinos. And moreover, the Indian Gaming Commission reports to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which somehow managed to “lose” millions of dollars’ worth of Indian trust funds. Along with the IRS and the VA, the BIA is one of the most dysfunctional agencies in the vast federal bureaucracy.

So these are the folks who allegedly regulate Indian gaming although tribes sometimes claim their casinos regulate themselves. In other words, when it comes to tribal gaming, the fox is in the hen house.

But that’s not the worst of it. Indian casinos play by their own rules and don’t pay their fair share of federal, state and local taxes. This means Nevada casinos compete with tribal casinos with one hand tied behind their collective backs. Indian tribes claim to be “sovereign nations” when it’s convenient, but at the same time they look to the federal government for handouts despite the fact their casinos are raking in billions of dollars per year. According to the Indian Gaming Commission, 65 tribal casinos in California earned $7 billion last year, about one-fourth of total nationwide earnings. No wonder California Indian tribes are among the major sources of political contributions in our neighboring state.

Guy W. Farmer worked for Nevada’s gaming control agencies during the period 1963-66.


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