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Tribal Gaming

Challenges to Tribal Gaming Today: Experts examine key issues to growing and sustaining Indian gaming revenues

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As one of the most regulated industries in the country, there is no doubt there are challenges in the world of Indian gaming.

The $28 billion industry continues to present fresh challenges as the commercial gaming itself expands across the nation.  Currently the Indian gaming industry spans 450 gaming establishments associated with 242 tribes across 28 states, according to the National Indian Gaming Commission.

Here are some of the most pressing issues for gaming tribes that center on one recurring theme – competition.

Internet gambling

There’s been a lot of discussion about what the next step is for legalizing online gaming in Indian Country.  Last month Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) reintroduced a bill that would ban Internet poker or games of chance in which real money is involved.

If passed, supporters say the bill would prevent casino marketing from reaching children through apps and social media.  Opponents argue the bill gives the federal government too much authority over intrastate commerce.

“That’s still something that’s being worked out on what is possible – technologically what is possible is quite astounding,” says Danielle Her Many Horses, deputy executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association, “but you also have to look at what is legally possible and feasible.”

Her Many Horses says the regulation of Internet gambling largely depends on each tribe’s relationship with state government.  California’s gaming tribes are divided on proposed legislation to regulate online poker, where industry experts predict the battle to authorize Internet gambling will take place.

Tribal-state gaming compacts

Increasingly more tribes and state governments are entering into compacts that allow tribal gaming, fueling the debate over how much the compacts effect the balance of tribal sovereignty and federal and state governments.  In total, 26 out of 28 Indian gaming states have authorized tribal-state gaming compacts with tribes, according to the U.S. Department of Interior.

A Florida and Seminole Tribe gaming compact is up for renegotiation this year.  The five-year agreement gave the Seminole exclusive rights to offer Las Vegas-style gaming.  In return the state receives a share of the revenues – an estimated $230 million last year.  Now Florida lawmakers are considering cutting back on the Seminole’s exclusivity to open up gaming to other parties.

In Wisconsin, the Menominee Indian Tribe is asking state officials for approval to build an $8 million casino with an offered $1.6 billion in state investment.  But the casino’s location would sit less than 40 miles from a Milwaukee casino owned by the Forest County Potawatomi, which the state holds a compact with.

In January Governor Scott Walker rejected the Menominee’s casino proposal.

“The [tribal state] compacts themselves are very fluid,” Her Many Horses says.  “That individual relationship with the state government is going to be potentially different, and different tribes have different values as do different states on what is most important to them.”

Demographic shifts:

Industry experts say population aging is one of the biggest factors affecting demographics in the commercial and tribal gaming industry.

A 2014 national poll found most gaming businesses are taking a different approach, reaching out to a younger audience ages 21 to 59.

“Casino visitors aren’t who some think they are,” says Glen Bolger, a public opinions researcher at Public Opinion Strategies, a national survey research firm.

Overall the data shows more people are looking favorably upon the gaming industry as a whole.  That’s likely driving competition between casinos and spurring customer demand for less-traditional interactive gaming across the board.

“As more casinos have come on line, it’s been increasing imperative that there are policies adopted that enable casinos to keep pace with the changing demands of consumers,” says Sara Rayme, senior vice president of public affairs with the American Gaming Association, speaking of the debate over skill-based gaming in some states.

Officials in Nevada and New Jersey are now reviewing skill-based games, popular among people in their 20s, as a way to draw younger players back into casinos.

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