Native American Casino Gambling in Wisconsin and Minnesota

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History of Casino Gambling in the U.S.

When the first bet was made is not known, but odds are that it was before recorded history. In all probability gambling is one of the older forms of human activities (Rafferty 1993).

Gambling has played a major role in the frontier of the United States. Motion pictures, novels, and television shows have documented gambling activities as a core feature of the frontier cultural landscape. Considered a vice by social reformers in the early twentieth century, gambling was subsequently banned by state legislatures, although gambling activities were never forbidden in federal law.

Until New Jersey authorized casinos in Atlantic City in 1978, American casino gambling was confined to Nevada. However various forms of gambling regained legal status in many states as social and political attitudes toward gambling moderated. These included pari-mutuel wagering on races and other sports and games of chance such as low-stakes bingo or pull-tabs for charitable institutions. In addition, state-run lotteries proliferated as legislators saw the opportunity to create a politically acceptable "voluntary tax".

By the 1970s, numerous forms of gambling had become socially acceptable recreational activities to a large segment of the American population. In the popular re-emergence of gambling, Native American leaders saw an economic development strategy to improve the living conditions of their tribal members. Citing tribal sovereignty, the Seminole opened a high-stakes bingo parlor on its reservation land near Miami in 1979. The Cabazon tribe followed suit with a casino facility near San Diego.

Local and state governments challenged this contention. However, the courts found in favor of the tribes in two key cases, Seminole v. Butterworth (1982) and California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians (1987), ruling that the tribes have a right to conduct gambling on reservation lands within states that otherwise permit gambling.

To codify these judicial rulings, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988. Lawmakers sought to walk a line between tribal sovereignty and states' rights. State governments and tribes are required to work together to develop compacts governing casino games and pari-mutuel wagering; bingo is regulated by federal authorities; tribal governments have sole authority over traditional Native American games.

The subsequent extraordinary growth of casino-style gambling in general and Native American casinos in particular, has been well documented (Meyer-Arendt and Hartmann 1998; Winchell et. al. 1997).

Tribes in Minnesota and Wisconsin have been particularly active in the development of casinos, with 15 in Wisconsin and 16 in Minnesota (Map 1). The only non-Native American casino style gaming in the two states is in the card room at the Canterbury Park horse racing track in suburban Minneapolis. The two states trail only Nevada, South Dakota, Colorado, and Mississippi in the total number of casinos. There are no official published data on casino finances, sizes, or the number and types of gaming machines and playing tables in the two states. Such data are held in confidence by tribal and state authorities. Collection of this information must depend on other sources, such as estimates developed by gambling management experts or from advertisements for the various casinos. Utilizing promotional literature from the casinos, it is estimated that there are 16,000 gaming machines and 800 blackjack tables within 1.5 million square feet of casino floor space in the two states. Size ranges from 375,000 square feet a t Mystic Lake in Minnesota to less than 10,000 square feet in several of the remote facilities in both states.


The gaming compacts within the two states are similar. As required by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the tribes own the casinos. …