The plaque outside the Apache Gold Casino declares the $40 million hotel, golf and gambling resort has “helped enable the San Carlos Apache Tribe to give a better quality of life to its tribal members.”
But seven years after the casino opened — and four years after the debut of a glittering new complex — many Apache families still crowd in small apartments or mobile homes.
The reservation’s unemployment rate has climbed from 42 percent in 1991 to 58 percent in 1997, the latest year available. The number of tribal members receiving welfare has jumped 20 percent. And the tribal government still grants home sites without water and sewer connections.
“We get no help from the casino, no money, nothing,” said Pauline Randall, 75, a lifelong resident of San Carlos.
$8 Billion and Little Change
Similar complaints echo across the 1.8 million acre reservation in east Arizona, but they could just as easily be heard on many other Indian reservations across the country that have built casinos in the past decade.
Despite an explosion of Indian gambling revenues — from $100 million in 1988 to $8.26 billion a decade later — an Associated Press computer analysis of federal unemployment, poverty and public assistance records indicates the majority of American Indians have benefited little.
Two-thirds of the American Indian population belong to tribes locked in poverty that still don’t have Las Vegas-style casinos.
And among the 130 tribes with casinos, a few near major population centers have thrived while most others make just enough to cover the bills, the AP analysis found.
Despite new gambling jobs, unemployment on reservations with established casinos held steady around 54 percent between 1991 and 1997 as many of the casino jobs were filled with non-Indians, according to data the tribes reported to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“Everybody thinks that tribes are getting rich from gaming and very few of them are,” said Louise Benson, chairman of the Hualapai Tribe in northwestern Arizona, one of two tribes with casinos that failed during the 1990s.
Of the 500,000 Indians whose tribes operate casinos, only about 80,000 belong to tribes with gambling operations that generate more than $100 million a year.
The Ring of Success
Some of the 23 tribes with the most successful casinos — like the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Tribe in Minnesota — pay each member hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
In Scott County, which includes the Shakopee reservation south of Minneapolis, the poverty rate declined from 4.1 percent in 1989 to 3.5 percent six years later. The reservation’s unemployment rate also plummeted from 70 percent in 1991 to just 4 percent in 1997.
Such success stories belong mostly to tribes with casinos near major population centers.
The tiny Mashantucket Pequot tribe of Connecticut reported more than $300 million in revenue in the first five months this year from its Foxwoods Casino, located between New York and Boston.
And the Seminole Tribe’s Hollywood Gaming Center on Miami’s Gold Coast generates more than $100 million a year with pull-tab slot machines. The unemployment rate on that reservation, however, still was 45 percent in 1997, and the average poverty rate in the two counties it touches rose from 10.4 percent in 1989 to 12.1 percent in 1995.
Poverty Rate Rises