Native American Casinos

Plenty of casinos around the United States are sponsored by large hotel corporations or private investors as a seemingly easy way to earn money, but some of the United States’ casinos are more than playing halls—they’re a livelihood for the Native American tribes who operate them.

Gambling has always been a traditional part of many Native American cultures, and when they were forced to move to reservations, which have little in the way of economic opportunity and are often centers of poverty, their ability to earn money and provide for themselves and their families was greatly impeded.

In the 1970s and 1980s, some Native American tribes, particularly on the West Coast, opened bingo halls on their reservations as a way to bring money in for the reservation as a whole. Tribes were able to use tribal sovereignty—exemption from United States laws because of their designation as a reservation—to keep their halls, though states began to fight the halls almost as soon as they were opened.

When the first couple halls proved successful, tribes in other states began to operate bingo halls amid states’ protests that their own casino revenue was dropping because people preferred the Native American casinos.

In order to solve these problems and provide a framework for regulating Native American gaming, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was passed in 1988. It regulates gaming based on a class system and provides a structure where the gaming is controlled, but it also contains statutes that are meant to protect Native American gaming as a source of revenue for tribes. The Regulatory Act openly encourages economic development in tribes by way of entrepreneurship.

The National Indian Gaming Commission states that there are more than 450 Native American gaming halls and casinos in the United States. These offer a mix of Class I, Class II, and Class III gaming, as decided by the Regulatory Act. Class I and Class II are things like bingo halls and lotteries, and these don’t require licenses to operate. Class III involves higher-stakes games.

Also according to the Commission, these casinos are profitable, but are not enough to keep most tribes afloat. Casinos on either of the coasts are more successful financially than casinos in the Midwest, but they continue to offer jobs and investment opportunities to tribe members who may not otherwise have the opportunity to have a job.

Though Native American gaming is popular and somewhat stereotyped nowadays as being overly common, not all the tribes in the United States participate in gaming—in fact, many don’t.

Two of the most well-known Native American casinos are the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula and the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. Both of these contain more than 3,000 slot machines each and have enormous gaming spaces.

Foxwoods is actually the second-largest casino in the world, second only to the Venetian Macao, and brings in a huge chunk of revenue for the state of Connecticut.

There are plenty of misconceptions surrounding the idea of Native American-run gaming, including assumptions that the casinos are steeped in organized crime, but the truth is, many tribe-run casinos today are simply a way for the tribe to earn money and economically stabilize its reservation, providing more safety and security for people living on the reservation.