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Casino or No Casino: The Pros and Cons of Indian Gaming

Blackest JackThe people of the Yavapai-Apache Nation live on a divided reservation in and around Camp Verde, AZ. Parts of the reservation are in Camp Verde, Clarkdale, Rim Rock, and Middle Verde, AZ. As of the 2000 census, there were 743 members of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, with the majority living in the two Camp Verde areas. In 1993, the Yavapai-Apache Nation signed a state compact to establish gaming on its reservation, and in 1995 opened its casino to pursue “full time” gaming operations.

The proceeds from the gaming operation have provided the Yavapai-Apache Nation with unprecedented income and the attendant benefits. The success of the enterprise has allowed the Nation to provide jobs, numerous services, and local benefits that would otherwise be unaffordable. While the benefits may be seen to outweigh the negative impacts, we must note that “hidden” impacts may also be present.

The Yavapai-Apache Nation has provided many economic benefits to its people since the establishment of Cliff Castle Casino. Prior to its opening, many of the tribal members were dependant on non-tribal government assistance or held low paying, dead end jobs. In the first four years after the casino opened, testimony before a Senate oversight committee by David LaSarte indicated that the casino employed over 750 people. Expenses from insurance, pensions, payroll and taxes exceeded $20 million in 1999. Any tribal members that are willing to work will have a job. All members employed by the tribe receive medical, dental, eye care, disability and life insurance. Members are provided with transportation for health related appointments, including those at the Indian Health Service in Phoenix. There is now a move to the practice of preventative medicine that insures a better system of health care for tribal members.

The Nation has established a corporate university to provide educational opportunities to tribal members and employees. A daycare center, owned and operated by the Nation, has been opened. Emergency loans are available to tribal members that provide up to $2,500 in the event of emergency. Housing has been upgraded, with more than 80% of reservation homes receiving some kind of remodeling. Homes of elderly and handicapped persons have been made handicap accessible.

Pages could be filled with the benefits that gaming has provided. Parks, infrastructure, tribal enterprise, police and fire protection is all provided. A non-state affiliated Tribal Court assists offenders with legal services and treatment and rehabilitation programs.

Children receive up to $450 per year for school supplies and clothing.

Programs have also benefited non-tribal causes. The Yavapai-Apache Nation donated two generators to the Hualapai Tribe for use in its dialysis machines. On Jan. 28, 2008 the Yavapai- Apache Tribal Council voted to donate $185,000 to five local communities and Yavapai County. Since 2000, the Yavapai-Apache Nation has awarded college scholarships to three, non-Indian graduating seniors, one from each of the Verde Valley High Schools.

The education of its tribal members in traditional culture also benefits. Traditional singing and dancing is now practiced again on the reservation. One of the few dances left from the Apache is the Sunrise Dance. It has been revived and was performed for the first time since 1947 after the establishment of gaming.

As mentioned above, a multi-paged document of the benefits could be written, but the accompanying problems are present also. The typical list of addiction, crime, and drug use are the usual ones mentioned. Gambling abuse and addiction and its offshoots are often brought up. This could result in a lack of proper childcare, funds to pay bills, and an overall depression. While the Yavapai-Apache Nation makes no statistics public, none of these effects have made the local papers in recent history.

A much deeper concern, not nearly as conspicuous, is rarely voiced. Many of the participants in Indian gaming are the Natives themselves. It would seem that the expenditure of what little funds are available to tribal members should be spent on gaming. The Yavapai-Apache Nation does not make distributions to individual tribal members. Time spent gambling may replace traditional social activities. Perhaps Native American values could be replaced with “materialism”. Domestic abuse and public corruption are ready companions to gaming. There may be a weakening of tribal culture and tribal values.

Wayne Taylor perhaps best voices an insight into this phenomenon on behalf of the Hopi people, who have rejected gaming. I would like to close with some quotes from his testimony before Congress.

“My name is Wayne Taylor, Chairman of the Hopi Tribe and on behalf of the Hopi people I want to express our appreciation to the study Commission for this opportunity to present my views on the impacts of Indian gaming on Indian people.

The Hopi view is, of course, the view of a non-gaming tribe. As many of you know, in 1995 the Hopi Tribe by a referendum vote rejected gaming as a means of revenue generation or economic development…. At the heart of this decision was a concern expressed by many of our people about the potential adverse effects of making gaming easily available to our people…

The effects of gaming activity on the entire tribal culture and society must also be considered. The impact on individual tribal members will always translate into impacts on the overall tribal culture. Indeed, it is not difficult to envision tribal gaming not only influencing but also becoming a significant part of tribal culture, perhaps even pushing aside in importance other characteristics of tribal culture that have long sustained us and which should be cultivated and nourished.

One of the most dangerous oxymorons currently floating around in non-Indian America and particularly in Congress is the idea of the so-called rich Indian tribe.

Somehow I have never associated the word “rich” with the words “Indian tribe”. Many members of the public and Congress seem very comfortable with this phrase. …Most of us continue to struggle merely to provide the most basic governmental services to our people, protect our lands and the environment and provide meaningful opportunities for growth and advancement of our people.

This is perhaps the most stinging impact of Indian tribal gaming on non-gaming tribes. While tribal gaming successes have provided no direct tangible benefits to non-gaming tribes, the non-gaming tribes, nevertheless, share the brunt of the congressional backlash and unfavorable public perception. All the negative characterizations typically associated with gaming activities such as compulsive addictive behavior, the search for the illusive something for nothing, the desire to get rich quick and the reaping of financial benefits at the hands of human behavior, these characteristics tend to spill over to effect all Indian tribes whether gaming or not.”

The ultimate negative effect of Indian gaming is not an individual doing drugs, or becoming addicted to gambling; it is the destruction of a culture, a people, a tribe. Nations may become corporate enterprises existent only to produce a profit. Is the donation of money to surrounding local communities for the betterment of the community itself? Or does support for the nearby Chamber of Commerce only provide a “beneficent” advertising opportunity? The purpose of tribal government may be changing. Producing a profit, as opposed to providing a rich cultural and comfortable life, may become the norm. That would be the worst negative consequence of all.”

The Navajo Nation could be the next Arizona tribe with a brand new casino. Is it the right decision?

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