Enterprising Tribes Look beyond Casinos ; Native Americans Try Golf, Tourism, Industrial Parks

By Simons, Char | The Christian Science Monitor, October 22, 2001 | Go to article overview

Enterprising Tribes Look beyond Casinos ; Native Americans Try Golf, Tourism, Industrial Parks


Simons, Char, The Christian Science Monitor


Continued reliance on casino profits may not be in the cards for many Indian tribes, which are increasingly looking at economically viable alternatives to help raise living standards for one of the most impoverished ethnic groups in the US.

Native American involvement with gambling has deepened amid an overall rise in legal gambling operations in the US. In 2000, tribal casinos, which operate in 23 states, generated $9.2 billion in revenues. Nontribal commercial casinos, open in 11 states, made $25 billion, according to the American Gaming Association.

"A lot of tribes got into gaming with the idea that there is a limited window of opportunity. They knew this [competition] was going to happen," says Michael Peters, a member of the 2,000- member Squaxin tribe near Olympia, Wash.

Now, Mr. Peters says, gambling has become entrenched as a tax base that helps self-governed tribes provide public services to members.

Peters has worked a variety of jobs both on and off the reservation, including fishing, negotiating compacts with state government, and directing an intertribal planning agency of five area tribes.

The majority of tribes in the state - and nationwide - do not operate casinos. Many never have. The most successful tribes without casinos are in Alaska, where several Indian-run corporations were formed after receiving a huge financial boost from the Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. (Some $962 million was awarded to native Alaskans in exchange for dropping land claims covering one-ninth of the state.)

One of them, Arctic Slope Regional Corp., is a Fortune 500 company, while another, the Cook Inlet Regional Corp., has paid $728 million to shareholders since its founding in 1972 - the equivalent of $116,000 per shareholder.

These corporations own a variety a businesses, ranging from construction companies to radio stations.

"Neither Cook nor Arctic has gaming, and they don't necessarily have oil," points out Richard Phelps, CEO of the Virginia-based Falmouth Institute, which publishes the American Indian Report magazine.

Around the country, native American businesses are emerging - from oyster farmers in the Northwest to Everglades tour operators in Florida. Museums have cropped up across the US. Lodging has seen a boom, particularly in the Southwest. Another hot economic- development prospect for tribes in the lower 48: golf. "Tribes are opening courses like there's no tomorrow," he adds. "They already own the land, and don't pay taxes on it. "

Revenues are also increasing in manufacturing, trade, construction, finance, insurance, real estate, transportation, communications, utilities, and other services. (Gaming and government, respectively, remain the biggest sectors.)

Tribes and tribal members who own private businesses, like the ubiquitous minimarts, are growing increasingly creative in the types of economic ventures they are investing in. …

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Enterprising Tribes Look beyond Casinos ; Native Americans Try Golf, Tourism, Industrial Parks
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