XIV: Rural Life

Gambling and Casinos

          Since Florida Seminoles tested the legality of reservation-based high stakes bingo in 1979, Indian tribes nationwide have embraced gambling as the “new buffalo” of economic development. Tribes in the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin quickly followed the Seminoles andChippewa bands in Michigan pushed beyond bingo to institute regular casino games. By 1987 when the Supreme Court ruled that states could not extend their gambling laws over reservations, 113 tribal operations were grossing $225 million per year. Congress responded with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (1988), extending federal supervision over tribal casinos and requiring tribes to negotiate gaming compacts with state governments. By 2001, 201 of the 526 federally recognized tribes operated 321 casino-type facilities in 29 states, generating $12.7 billion in annual net revenues, $68 million in charitable contributions, and 300,000 jobs.

            Midwestern tribes remain prominent players, operating dozens ofgaming facilities in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, andIowa.  Most are in non-metro areas and rural counties. Tribes useprofits to fund tribal operations, economic development plans, and social service programs in communities where poverty has been epidemic. Casinos provide employment for Indians and non-Indians, and the economic spillover in tourism, services, and taxes is now driving some rural economies.
            Indian gaming as economic development is not without consequences. While some point to the tremendous revitalization of Indian communities and cultures, others fear the loss of tribal sovereignty inherent in negotiating compacts with states.
David Rich Lewis
Utah State University
Angela Firkus and Donald L. Parman, “Indian Reservation Gaming: Much at Stake,” Organization of American Historians Magazine of History 9 (Summer 1995); Anicca C. Jansen, “American Indian Gaming Operations and Local Development,” Rural Development Perspectives 10 (February 1995); Nell Jessup Newton and Shawn Frank, “Gaming,” in Native America in the Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia, ed., Mary B. Davis (1994).