Casinos Not Paying Off for Indians

ByABC News

S A N  C A R L O S,  Ariz., Aug. 31, 2000 -- The plaque outside the Apache GoldCasino declares the $40 million hotel, golf and gambling resort has“helped enable the San Carlos Apache Tribe to give a betterquality of life to its tribal members.”

But seven years after the casino opened — and four years afterthe debut of a glittering new complex — many Apache families stillcrowd in small apartments or mobile homes.

The reservation’s unemployment rate has climbed from 42 percentin 1991 to 58 percent in 1997, the latest year available. Thenumber of tribal members receiving welfare has jumped 20 percent.And the tribal government still grants home sites without water andsewer connections.

“We get no help from the casino, no money, nothing,” saidPauline Randall, 75, a lifelong resident of San Carlos.

$8 Billion and Little Change

Similar complaints echo across the 1.8 million acre reservationin east Arizona, but they could just as easily be heard on manyother Indian reservations across the country that have builtcasinos in the past decade.

Despite an explosion of Indian gambling revenues — from $100million in 1988 to $8.26 billion a decade later — an AssociatedPress computer analysis of federal unemployment, poverty and publicassistance records indicates the majority of American Indians havebenefited little.

Two-thirds of the American Indian population belong to tribeslocked in poverty that still don’t have Las Vegas-style casinos.

And among the 130 tribes with casinos, a few near majorpopulation centers have thrived while most others make just enoughto cover the bills, the AP analysis found.

Despite new gambling jobs, unemployment on reservations withestablished casinos held steady around 54 percent between 1991 and1997 as many of the casino jobs were filled with non-Indians,according to data the tribes reported to the Bureau of IndianAffairs.

“Everybody thinks that tribes are getting rich from gaming andvery few of them are,” said Louise Benson, chairman of theHualapai Tribe in northwestern Arizona, one of two tribes withcasinos that failed during the 1990s.

Of the 500,000 Indians whose tribes operate casinos, only about80,000 belong to tribes with gambling operations that generate morethan $100 million a year.

The Ring of Success

Some of the 23 tribes with the most successful casinos — likethe Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Tribe in Minnesota — pay eachmember hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

In Scott County, which includes the Shakopee reservation southof Minneapolis, the poverty rate declined from 4.1 percent in 1989to 3.5 percent six years later. The reservation’s unemployment ratealso plummeted from 70 percent in 1991 to just 4 percent in 1997.

Such success stories belong mostly to tribes with casinos nearmajor population centers.

The tiny Mashantucket Pequot tribe of Connecticut reported morethan $300 million in revenue in the first five months this yearfrom its Foxwoods Casino, located between New York and Boston.

And the Seminole Tribe’s Hollywood Gaming Center on Miami’s GoldCoast generates more than $100 million a year with pull-tab slotmachines. The unemployment rate on that reservation, however, stillwas 45 percent in 1997, and the average poverty rate in the twocounties it touches rose from 10.4 percent in 1989 to 12.1 percentin 1995.

Poverty Rate Rises

For many of the 130 tribes with Las Vegas-style casinos, likethe San Carlos Apaches, gambling revenues pay for casino operationsand debt service, with little left to upgrade the quality of life.

In counties that contain reservations with casinos, the povertyrate declined only slightly between 1989 and 1995, from 17.7percent to 15.5 percent, the AP analysis founds. Counties withreservations with no gambling saw their poverty rate remain steadyat slightly more than 18 percent.

Nationally, the poverty rate hovered at near 13 percent duringthe period.

In California, the Tachi Yokut Tribe in the San Joaquin Valleybrags on its Web site that its Palace Gaming Center has providedemployment for tribal members, helped raise education levels andupgraded housing.

But the poverty rate in Kings County, which includes the tribe’ssmall reservation, climbed from 18.2 percent in 1989 to 22.3percent in 1995. The reservation’s unemployment rate droppedslightly to 49.2 percent in 1997.

Jonathan Taylor, a research fellow at the Harvard UniversityProject on American Indian Economic Development, said manyinvestments gaming tribes have made in social and economicinfrastructure don’t translate into immediate improvements inquality-of-life indicators like poverty.

“You see investments arising out of gaming taking hold slowlyin greater educational success, greater family integrity, greaterpersonal health, greater crime prevention,” he said.

Signs of Hope

There are some optimistic signs that tribes hope to build onwhen the casino construction loans are repaid.

The analysis indicates casino gambling has slowed, though notreversed, the growth of tribal members on public assistance.Participation in the Agriculture Department’s Food DistributionProgram on Indian Reservations increased 8.2 percent from 1990 to1997 among tribes with casinos, compared with 57.3 percent amongtribes without them.

And economic development has been spurred in communities neartribal casinos, according to an analysis of county businesspatterns.

The Oneida Indian Nation in central New York has become thelargest employer in Oneida and Madison counties, thanks to a casinothat’s generating more than $100 million in annual revenues. Achampionship golf course and convention center are underconstruction.

Unemployment Stays High

But the new jobs have not reduced unemployment for Indians.Tribes with established casinos saw their unemployment rate risefour-tenths of a point to 54.4 percent between 1991 and 1997, theAP analysis found.

Jacob Coin, former executive director of the National IndianGaming Association, said that’s because 75 percent of jobs intribal casinos are held by non-Indians.

At the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation along theCalifornia-Arizona-Nevada border, the unemployment rate climbedfrom 27.2 percent in 1991 to 74.2 percent in 1997.

Tribal administrator Gary Goforth acknowledged few of the 675jobs at the tribe’s two financially troubled casinos are filled bytribal members. “Not everybody wants to be a dealer, or ahousekeeper or even a manager in the restaurant,” he said.

San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Raymond Stanley said about 80percent of the 360 casino resort employees are tribal members. Hesaid the casino also provides a $65,000 monthly dividend to thetribe that has paid for seven new police cars and small clinic.

But Stanley said it’s not enough to meet the needs of the 10,500tribal members, 6,000 to 7,000 of whom remain on public assistance.Because the tribe’s unemployment rate remains above 50 percent, itis exempt from the 1996 welfare reform law that limits recipientsto five years.

“We really don’t have a lot to show for it at the moment,” hesaid. “The real benefit right now is employment.

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