Economic Evidence on the Effects of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act on Indians and Non-Indians

Article excerpt

Introduction

The history of United States policy displays a pattern of great swings between the federal government's support for the self-determination of American Indian governments and its attempts to dissolve or suppress it. While the 1970's ushered in what is often referred to by those who work in Indian affairs as the "self-determination era," tribes could count on little federal support for tribal government enhancement or development despite significant demonstrated need. In the 1980's, as Indian households lost ground relative to mainstream America, many tribes began to take matters into their own hands by exercising sovereignty, strengthening their governmental autonomy and stimulating their economies.

The most high profile of these tribally driven self-determination efforts in the late 1970's and early 1980's was the introduction of tribal gaming in a few key states, including Florida, Minnesota and California. After establishing through the courts that tribal civil regulatory authority extends to permitted gambling in these (and all) states, tribal governments expanded and developed a robust gambling industry, acting to create jobs, rebuild their native nations, revitalize their cultures, and achieve other community objectives.1 When Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) in 1988, some tribal leaders perceived the state compacting provision required for casino-style gaming on tribal lands as an erosion of tribal sovereignty that could undermine their early economic development successes and disrupt a precariously successful federal-tribal relationship with regard to tribal self-determination.2

In hindsight, however, the substantial growth and myriad positive impacts of the first twenty years of tribal gaming under IGRA reveal the ways that the federal regulatory framework laid out in the law resolved numerous legal dileimnas that liad plagued tribal gaming expansion. It is now clear that the predictability provided by successful tribal- state compact negotiations allowed the necessary capital investments to produce a robust tribal government gaming industry across much of Indian Country. Therefore, an analysis of tribal government gaming's impacts on tribal communities and neighboring localities is best framed in the context of the federal law that continues to shape the industry today.

Legislative History of IGRA

The Senate Committee Report on S. 555, the bill which would eventually become the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), provides a succinct background on the discussions and negotiations that took place to develop legislation that would simultaneously, "preserve the right of tribes to self-government while, at the same time... achieve a fair balancing of competitive economic interests."3 Among other tilings, the report provides an early assessment of the size of the Indian gaming industry, which numbered at that time over 100 bingo operations earning more than $100 million in annual revenues.4 The Senate report also highlights the essential and governmental nature of tribal government gaming: "bingo revenues have enabled tribes, like lotteries and other games have done for State and local governments, to provide a wider range of government services to tribal citizens and reservation residents than would otherwise have been possible."5

The legislative history from the U.S. House of Representatives further emphasizes the intent to strengthen tribal self-determination and enhance tribes' ability to provide critical governmental services through gaming revenues. Congressman Oberstar from Minnesota remarked that bingo, "is a very important source of revenue for Indian reservations in our State of Minnesota and in my congressional district where reservations are using the money wisely to invest in health care, education and economic development, the revenue derived from high-stakes bingo."6 Congressman Sikorski, also from Minnesota, reiterated what tribal governments were doing there, stating, "to most reservations it is the very small difference between survival and total dependence on the 'Big White Father'-the federal government. …