AT 7:30 in the morning a small crowd gathers outside the Irene
Moore Activity Center on the Oneida Indian reservation. When the
doors open at 8 there is a polite rush into the big hall.
By 9 o'clock up to 700 people - mostly older, non-Indian women -
are seated at rows of tables with marking pens and numbered cards
ready to play big-stakes bingo when the clock strikes 10.
In nearby rooms the slot machines are clanging; blackjack games
are underway, and men and women are seated on stools in front of
Welcome to the rapidly expanding world of Indian gambling, a new
kind of gold being heavily mined on economically deprived Indian
reservations across the United States.
With the passage of the 1988 Indian Gambling Regulatory Act,
revenue-hungry tribes from Connecticut to California are negotiating
with states to either expand current tax-free gambling operations or
draw plans for large Las Vegas-style casinos.
Since Congress passed the act, 20 gambling compacts already have
been signed between tribes and states. More are on the way.
In a nation that gambles on everything from lotteries to horses,
dogs and professional sports, increased gambling on reservations
could push the total amount bet in the US to a staggering $500
billion by the year 2000.
The newly formed National Indian Gaming Commission estimates that
tribes earned a total of $600 million from gambling last year after
prizes were paid.
Examples of recent Indian gambling developments:
*-In Connecticut, Gov. Lowell Weicker having unsuccessfully
opposed the plan, the Mashantucket Pequot tribe will now build a $48
*-In southeastern Minnesota, the Prairie Island Sioux added
25,000 square feet to their casino to enlarge the gambling area.
*-In Wisconsin, the Lac Courte Oreilles tribe is seeking
investors to build a $5 million casino as the result of a compact
approved by Gov. Tommy G. Thompson.
*-South of Green Bay, the Potawatomi tribe will expand its bingo
hall, which seats 2,500.
*-In Florida, the Seminoles have major bingo operations in three
cities and are seeking the state's permission to run casinos, horse
and dog racing, and jai alai.
Indian tribes have struggled for decades with massive
unemployment and severe social problems as a result of ambiguous
federal policies. Many reservations have few natural resources.
Successful gambling operations like those of the Oneida tribe
near Green Bay indicate that conditions on reservations can improve
dramatically when gaming revenue is used for social services and
"We started 15 years ago with bingo games in a gymnasium," says
Oneida Tribal Chairman Rick Hill. "About 83 percent of our $73
million tribal budget now comes from gaming and has allowed us to
support such programs as Head Start, day care, a health center, a
nursing home, counseling services and land acquisition. We employ
about 200 people from gaming."
Other tribes desperately want similar results. When the Lac
Courte Oreilles tribe in northern Wisconsin recently signed a
compact with the state, a spokesman for the tribe said, "Within six
months we will be able to wipe out unemployment." As many as 400
tribal members could be employed on a reservation where unemployment
hovers around 50 percent.
ve seen a lot tribes strive to get into the big-bucks bingo
immediately," says Bobbi Webster, director of communications for the
Oneida tribe. "In order to do that they need investors up front and
have to bring in outside management. A lot of tribes want to get
rich quick without taking the time to train their people and develop
their operation. …