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Date: Tue, 18 Feb 97 17:53:32 EST
From: "Glen WELKER" <gwelker@mail.lmi.org>
Message-Id: <9701188563.AA856318475@mail.lmi.org>
Subject: Indian Gaming and Indian Poverty (fwd)
Sender: owner-taino-l@corso.ccsu.ctstateu.edu

Indian Gaming and Indian Poverty

Native Americas Magazine (Cornel University),
18 February 1997

According to a report entitled Survey of Grant Giving by American Indian Foundations and Organizations recently released by Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP), gaming on Indian reservations has yet to significantly lower the high levels of poverty endemic to Indian people nationwide. The report found that poverty among Indians has actually risen during the past decade of the gaming boom, and now more than half of all reservation Indians live below the poverty level-more than four times the national average.

The findings refute the notion that Indians have struck it rich over the past few years. According to the report, among the reasons for this disparity between perception and reality is that the big success stories in gaming are the exceptions rather than the rule. In 1993, out of more than 200 tribes with gaming establishments, two tribes-the Mashantucket Pequots and the Shakopee Sioux-accounted for almost a third of the $2.6 billion in gaming revenues. The 100 tribes with the smallest casinos and bingo halls averaged less than $5 million apiece that same year (see fig. 1).

Small tribes located near major urban areas have benefited the most from the gaming boom. For many of them gaming has reduced or eliminated unemployment and has provided a substitute for shrinking federal funds. However, the combined population of the three most successful gaming reservations is less than 500. The ten largest reservations, where 218,000 of the 437,000 reservation Indians live, have, with only one exception, seen an increase in poverty during the 1980s. The one exception, the Hopi reservation, does not have a gambling operation (see fig. 2). For the country as a whole, the percentage of Indians living on reservations who live below the poverty rate has increased from 45 percent of the population in 1980 to 51 percent today.

Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, in a recent letter to the New York Times, noted that the isolation of many Native communities precluded a viable gaming operation: In Alaska, home to 85,000 Native Americans, 80 percent of the villages cannot be reached by roads. Navajos in Chinle, Ariz. must drive 70 miles across the reservation to reach a bank. The NAP report also noted that the needs of reservation Indians are so great that, even if, for the sake of argument, all the Indian gaming revenue in the country could be divided equally among all the Indians in the country, the amount distributed ($3,000 per person) would still not be enough to raise Indian per-capita income (currently $4,500) to anywhere near the national average of $14,400. Furthermore, gaming revenues are not a true indicator of wealth because gaming revenues represent gross income; while some Indian gaming operations are spectacularly successful, with a profit margin of up to 40% of revenues, most are only marginally profitable.

The NAP survey found that those tribes with successful operations are currently unable to help other reservations. Among the reasons was that gaming tribes are simply not structurally organized to be grantmakers - very few tribes have foundations. Any request for money must go through their government decision-making process, a process that has many checks and balances.