Thursday, February 4, 2010

Thoughts on Indian gaming

I view Indian gaming as a historical accident. In our case, we were “poor as the day is long,” and in retrospect that’s probably an understatement.

There were a few circumstances that fell into place to make it easier for gaming to come to our reservation. In the early 1990s, the State of Kansas built a new $55 million dollar four lane highway that went right by our reservation. This made it only a 15-minute drive from Topeka, Kansas with a population base of 150,000 people and a 1.5 -hour drive from Kansas City, which has a population of over a million people.

In 1995, the State of Kansas approved a Tribal/State Compact but only after years of litigation that was costly to both sides. Fortunately for us, it passed without a sunset provision. The good thing is that we don’t have to renegotiate the terms every few years and give the state a cut of the action, as is the case with many tribes.

The tribe started a small casino shortly after this compact was approved and now we have a top of the line casino –1,043- machine facility - capable of creating significant wealth for the tribe to use in righting the wrongs of the past. We went through a couple of expansions to our facility and are debt-free. We all know gaming may be only a short window of opportunity and we have taken full advantage of this economic windfall. I’ve been around for a long time and have seen the poverty on our reservation, so the transformation is gratifying to witness.

To give a few examples of this transformation consider these improvements: We have concentrated on improving our infrastructure. We have poured millions of dollars into our people with jobs and services, buildings, roads, housing and park development. Today, we have a new government center, clinic, a new senior citizen center, Boys and Girls Club, Police Station, water treatment plant, a new Fire Station and state of the art equipment. In addition, we funded a new addition to our Childcare center. Gaming money has made it possible for more tribal members to attend the college of their choice. It’s an investment that will pay dividends in the future.

Once we had horrendous roads where we would literally get stuck in the middle of the main- road during rainstorms, but today we have many miles of blacktop road. In addition we have built many houses, 16 apartments, and duplexes for our people –both young and old. This will improve the living conditions of our tribal members. The last homes built on the reservation were with HUD development money in 1977 and 1985. A recent article said the only way tribes can make lasting change on reservations is to provide housing for its people and how can you not agree with that statement.

I’m a student of history and have seen many federal programs come to our reservation and nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, has had the impact on our reservation as gaming has done. I don’t mean to paint a perfect picture because we have had dissent on our reservation, just like all reservations, and we will have it in the future because people’s opinions and individual priorities can vary. We can live with arguments about money rather than one about having none to help our people.

I think how a tribal member who hasn’t been here for years would be amazed at the total transformation of the reservation and it is a direct result of the gaming revenues we have coming in today. We know it won’t last forever but we can show positive change to what once was a poverty-stricken area. My closing advice is for all tribes to tell their economic success stories because no one else can convey the true positive impact gaming has had in Indian Country.