Indian gaming is the first tribal economy that has ever brought the type of non-Indian capital to Indian Country to make a meaningful difference in the lives of Reservation Indians. Today, however, Indian gaming is under it's most severe threat since states attempted to outlaw Indian gaming in the 1980s, prior to the Supreme Court's Cabazon decision. According to the New York Times today::
After shunning the concept for years, Massachusetts, seeking solutions to its budget woes, last fall became the first New England state to pass a broad law allowing resort casinos. Now others may not be far behind. . . . In New Hampshire, which dreads losing tourism money to Massachusetts, lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow up to four casinos there. Maine just granted its first casino license to a six-year-old Bangor slot parlor that will add table games next month, and a second casino is expected to open in Oxford this year. Both are the result of voter referendums. Rhode Island, which already has two slot parlors, will hold a referendum in November on whether to allow table games at one of them.
State-supported commercial, brick-and-mortar casinos are likely coming to a state, if not neighborhood, near you.
If that force weren't a threat enough to the Indian gaming industry, there is the December 23, 2011 decision to declare intrastate Internet gaming legal. The Las Vegas Sun headline, "DOJ opinion ‘important day’ in efforts to legalize online gaming," says it all.
It is widely believed that sooner or later the legalization of interstate iGaming will follow, meaning legalized Internet gaming throughout all of the United States. Imagine Indian Country's best gaming patrons commencing play of Class III slot machines or other gaming devices on their laptop computers, from the comforts of their bedrooms and home offices. That reality is in fact what is on the horizon.
Indeed, it is not a question of if the $26 billion tribal governmental gaming economy will recede as a result of mounting state and commercial gaming forces; it is a question of when -- and to what extent. So if you and your tribe aren't yet aggressively diversifying your tribal economy away from sole reliance on gaming, what are you waiting for?
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.