Today the New York Times tells a fascinating story about the plight of the world's largest casino, Foxwoods Resort Casino. For gaming tribes, the story should serve as yet another loud and clear wake up call that Indian gaming, as we currently know it, will not last forever. Consider these passages from the ominously titled story, "Foxwoods Casino is Fighting for Its Life":
[H]ow the casino reached this point, and the challenges its owners and operators now confront, is part of a much larger story — one involving the gradual relaxation of moral prohibitions against gambling, a desperate search for new revenue by state governments and the proliferation of new casinos across America. Casino gambling has become a commodity, available within a day’s drive to the vast majority of U.S. residents. Some in the industry talk of there being an oversupply, as if their product were lumber or soybeans.
Yes, the casino gambling market is saturated, and it will only continue to saturate.
In October, a casino opened at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens with 4,500 slot machines, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing an expansion plan for the site that includes a hotel and what would be the nation’s largest convention center. And lawmakers in Massachusetts recently voted to issue licenses for a slots parlor and three full resort casinos — an especially ominous development for the Connecticut casinos, which draw about 30 percent of their clientele from Massachusetts, because many gamblers are ruled by what is known in the business as the law of gravity. They stop where the pull is the strongest, which is usually the nearest casino.
Yes, new non-tribal, brick-and-mortar casinos and racinos are coming to a state near you; perhaps even a neighboring state that does not run afoul of tribal Class III gaming exclusivity.
Resistance to gambling, however, has been overwhelmed by the need for new sources of public revenue in an era when it has become nearly impossible, at any level of government, to raise taxes or even to let temporary tax cuts expire. A kind of self-perpetuating momentum fuels gambling’s growth: the more states that legalize it, the more politicians in states that haven’t done so argue that if their citizens are going to throw money into slot machines, they might as well do it at home.
Yes, while states cannot effectively raises taxes in today's political climate, they can and will create new taxing objects, namely commercial gaming.
Foxwoods had been an early mover, built to stand astride a huge geographic area — much like the Pequot tribe once dominated a big swath of New England. But as the casino business in America has expanded, Foxwoods’s piece of it has become smaller and will continue to shrink.
Indeed, other successful gaming tribes and early movers, also built to stand astride huge, exclusive geographic areas, very well may, as the casino business in American continues to expand, also begin to shrink. If or when that day comes, those tribes must be prepared to fill the void of gaming revenues with other profit streams.
Gabriel "Gabe" Galanda is a partner at Galanda Broadman PLLC, of Seattle, an American Indian owned law firm. He is an enrolled member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Covelo, California. Gabe helps tribes and Indian small businesses with economic diversification efforts, with an emphasis on minimizing state interference or taxation. Gabe can be reached at 206.691.3631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.