Updated: 14 minutes ago
Text size: Many Indian casinos aren't big moneymakers
BY KARLA SCHUSTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
9:43 PM EDT, May 30, 2009
If the Shinnecock tribe is counting on a casino for financial salvation, it will discover that Indian gambling enterprises are far from a sure bet.
While Indian casinos have seen explosive growth over the past decade - 230 tribes now operate 425 gambling enterprises in 28 states - most wealth is concentrated in a few states. The rest, experts say, are moderately successful or break-even enterprises that rarely result in windfalls for members.
"There's a lot of disparity in the performance of Indian gaming," said Alan Meister, an economist with Analysis Group in Los Angeles and author of the annual Indian Gaming Industry Report. "Being in New York is a good thing and might work in its [the Shinnecock tribe's] favor . . . but there are a lot of other things that go into it besides location," such as the type of facility, whether nongambling amenities are offered and if any state or federal regulations apply.
In 2007, for example, 62 casinos in California and Connecticut accounted for nearly 40 percent of the $26.5 billion in tribal gaming revenue nationwide, according to latest Indian gaming report. Two Indian casinos in Connecticut generated the same revenue as 101 Indian casinos in Oklahoma.
In a settlement reached last week, the Department of the Interior has agreed to rule by Dec. 15 on the Shinnecock's request for federal recognition, which would give it the right to open a casino. A casino outside the tribe's Southampton reservation, at Belmont Park racetrack in Elmont for example, would require state and federal approval.
Currently, the Shinnecocks' annual Labor Day weekend powwow, which attracts Indian vendors from all over the country and draws about 50,000 visitors, is the 1,300-member tribe's main source of income, according to Shinnecock officials.
The 1988 federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows tribes with federal recognition to open casinos and specifies how they use the profits, including tribal government operations, the general welfare of members, promoting tribal economic development, charitable donations and local government operations.
Tribes have used the money to pay for health care, scholarships, community centers and other facilities on reservations.
The Mohegan tribe, which runs the Mohegan Sun Casino in eastern Connecticut and a smaller operation in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., provides health care and housing for its elderly members, and full college tuition, according to Chuck Bunnell, the tribe's chief of staff. The tribe is also building a community center.
"The tribe has reinvested into the business that they own, which is Mohegan Sun, and they have been able to provide for their people in a way that the federal government never did or could have," Bunnell said.
Some of the most successful tribes also distribute a dividend from casino profits to members. Bunnell said the Mohegans issue a per capita payment of less than $30,000 a year. The Mashantucket Pequot tribe, which runs the Foxwoods casino resort, also in Connecticut, has reportedly paid adult members as much as $100,000 each some years.
But such high-profile success stories are the exception, not the rule, said Jacob Coin, former executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association. He said only a third of all tribes with casinos distribute per capita payments and those that do, rarely pay out large sums, he said.
"There are still quite a number of tribes who are happy to have just created jobs for their members, as opposed to generating a lot of revenues," said Coin, now public affairs director for the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in California, which manages a casino and bingo facility.
Tribes outside the Northeast, which generally have more members and lack dense population centers to draw customers from, often see their casinos struggle. Some casinos have shut down.
Still, "having said all that, casinos are probably the only economic tool that has worked for Indians," Coin said./
EDITORIAL FOOTNOTE; If I were to give information about the per caps, I could be brought up on Good Standing Charges, but the Chief Of Staff can do it and nothing happens to him. Joe Smith gave it out, Roland Harris gave it out years ago, but a free press can't tell it. What is wrong with this picture? Could it be, who says it makes a difference? Could it be subjectice prosecution? What do you think?