Saturday, August 16, 2008

Indian Casinos

So Why Indian Casinos, Anyway?

A majority of the casino gaming in the US is run and even regulated through the Indian reservations, usually with simple nods to the Feds. A look at American history, society, business and law enforcement.

By Michael M Aug 15, 2008

From the earliest days of colonial period, Americans have had a rocky relationship with their Indian neighbors. The Native Americans resented European expansion; the settlers pushed west onto tribal lands. Conflict was inevitable.

By 1890, the western ‘frontier of settlement' was a thing of the past, and the Indian tribes had mostly been confined to a series of reservations across most of the 48 contiguous states. These Indian reservations had, and still have, an ambiguous relationship (boy that's an understatement) with the US and state governments.

Formed by treaties between the Federal authorities and the individual tribes, the reservations are, technically, sovereign entities, not bound by state laws (in steps public law 280 for some tribes in some states one being California and it's tribes) and only loosely bound (and tightly bound by Congress) by Federal regulations and laws. Given the history of distrust between Indians and whites, it's an uneasy relationship; sometimes it works well, and sometimes its bursts into violence (think Leonard Peltier).

Gone gambling

So where do Indian casinos fit into the story? How do they relate to the history of conflict, and the Indians' long defeat? Oddly enough, the fit is logical, and it boils down to money. (money the Feds don't want to budget and money the tribes need to support themselves)

The Indian reservations were set up, for the most part, in the latter half of the 1800s, on land which the US government deemed marginal for settlement or development. Their purpose was not so much to give the Indians a place to live, as to get ‘em out of the way. It's an ugly chapter of American history. (listen up here, Rep Watson and Congressional Black Caucus)

The reservation system, combined with prejudice, bigotry, and segregation, (and still going on today) left a majority of American Indians (Native Americans, as they prefer to be called today) living in deep poverty by the mid 1900s, with, at best, run-down facilities and no particular tax base or income. And then, in the latter half of the 1900s, some enterprising tribal leaders made a few important connections...

Know thy neighbors

First, they noticed that a lot of Americans liked to gamble. It was hard not to notice this, since many people would go to the reservations for their games. They did that because a majority of states (Nevada and New Jersey are notable as exceptions) have strict laws regulating or forbidding gambling, whether casino based or private games. (yep, steady stream of cars from California to Nevada - that road now is a parking lot as well)

Second, the tribal leaders began to realize that their reservations were islands of legal gambling within the states. To take one example, Michigan simply forbade casino gambling until the mid-1990s. To take advantage of this, the tribes on the Isabella Indian Reservation, near Mt. Pleasant, built the Soaring Eagle Casino: a first-class resort hotel and casino, complete with five-star restaurants and spas. Soaring Eagle is only a few hours north of metropolitan Detroit, and is a well known vacation destination in Michigan and Ohio.

The final thing the tribal leaders saw was the sheer quantity of money to be made from operating casinos. This writer has been to the Isabella Reservation; casino profits have paid for new school buildings, fire and police stations, emergency vehicles, and an ambulance service. Verified tribal members are entitled to a percentage of annual profits, as well. The reservation can set its own gaming regulations, and pays no taxes to state or Federal governments. (enters the compacts where states now take a big chunk of the proceeds - you didn't really think the states were going to pass up this money grab opportunity did you?)

The effects, both positive and not

Most tribes within the US made the same realizations, and Indian casinos have popped up all over. The income from them has permitted tremendous improvements in the standard of living at most reservations. Several of the tribes used their unique regulatory status to get around Federal regulations and enter the Internet gaming market, as well. Canada, with a similar history to the US, is home to the Kahnawake Gaming Commission.

The picture, of course, is not completely rosy, but it's not likely to change anytime soon. Most legal gambling in the US is based on Indian reservations, in the Indian casinos.

(just providing a service the American public wants...:))