Study: Casinos help Indian tribes lift themselves out of poverty


Besides the gleaming towers built by gambling wealth, there is evidence on nearly every Native American reservation in the region that the casino industry improves people’s lives. New houses are built and old ones are renovated. Health centers are expanding their services and sports complexes are being developed. Monthly payments are made and scholarships are given to tribal members.

Yet there is a stark difference between tribes that play on their reservations and those that do not.

Nationally, casino gambling helped American Indians raise their standard of living in the 1990s, but they were still among the poorest people in the country, according to a Harvard University study published this month.

Family poverty rates among tribes with casinos fell from 36% in 1990 to 27% in 2000. But that rate was still three times higher than the national average of 9%, according to the study.

“There is a big gap to close, but it has been there for decades. Now you’re starting to turn a corner,” said Joseph Kalt, professor of economics at Harvard University and co-author of the study.

Tribes lucky enough to have their reservations near urban centers or near major highways clearly had an advantage. Others in remote parts of the county struggled to find their way.

“We didn’t ask to be on this land,” said Johnny Hernandez, president of the Santa Ysabel Band of Diegueno Mission Indians, whose reservation is in a mountainous area 40 miles east of Escondido, where they plan to start building a casino this year.

Many residents of the Santa Ysabel Reserve live in deplorable conditions, some without electricity or running water. But the tribe used money from a gambling profit-sharing program to pay for scholarships.

In stark contrast, the Pala Band of Mission Indians, which runs a profitable casino off the busy Interstate 15 between Temecula and Escondido, has used its money to build tribal government buildings, housing for its members, and even donate grants. monthly payments to tribal members, just like investors in a corporation.

Gambling benefit payments to tribe members——for those who receive them——are rarely discussed openly, but are said to range from a few hundred dollars a month to around $10,000 a month for members of the tribe. the local tribe.

For most of the country’s 200 tribes that run casinos, the benefit of the gambling business lies in the employment it generates, not the monthly payouts, tribal leaders say.

The Harvard study, called Cabazon (Band of Mission Indians), the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and the Socioeconomic Consequences of American Indian Governmental Gaming, was funded by the NationalIndian Gaming Association, a tribal gaming trade group.

It was conducted by the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, a research organization.

According to the study, tribal members whose governments operated casinos had higher incomes, lower poverty and unemployment rates, and were less likely to receive government assistance than those who did not have casinos.

Despite their economic gains, the average income of all tribal people living on Indian reservations in 2000 was $7,942, about a third of the national average of $21,587, according to the study that analyzed census data. American from 1990 and 2000.

Of all the tribes in North County, only the Rincon Band of LuisenoMission Indians in Valley Center briefly had a casino in the 1990s. There are now five tribes in North County that operate casinos, including Rincon , and a total of nine tribes own casinos in San Diego County.

Tribal leaders said the study is further evidence that Indian gambling benefits tribal members.

“In California you are seeing the resurgence of schools, teaching Indian children native languages, providing better health care for elders, educational opportunities and the list goes on and on,” said Anthony Miranda, president of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, a trade group. representing over 60 tribes, most of which have casinos on their reservations.

Miranda, a member of the Pechanga Band of Indians at the Luiseno Mission near Temecula, said while California’s Gambler Tribes help improve the lives of all tribal people, the responsibility is not entirely theirs. The federal government also has a legal responsibility to help lift Native Americans out of poverty, he said.

The California Gaming Tribes contribute to a trust fund that provides approximately $1 million annually for each tribe that does not have a casino or has a gaming operation with fewer than 350 slot machines.

Beginning in the 1980s, Indian tribes began building casinos to improve the lives of historically poor residents of Native American communities. Most reserves are in rural areas, where jobs and economic opportunities are limited.

States, including California, challenged the right of Indian tribes to offer gambling on their reservations in the mid-1980s. In 1987, the United States Supreme Court upheld the right of the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians to establish a gambling casino opening the door for other tribes to open casinos.

The following year, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, which formally recognized the right of tribes to gamble and set the rules for gaming on Indian lands.

According to the study from 1990 to 2000:

  • Non-gaming bookings saw a 30% increase in per capita revenue, from $5,678 to $7,365.
  • Player Tribes saw their income increase from $6,242 to $8,466.
  • The unemployment rate fell from 25% to 22% on non-gambling reservations.
  • The unemployment rate fell from 19% to 15% in game bookings.
  • At the national level, the unemployment rate fell from 5.6% in 1990 to 4% in 2000.

The report is available at

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Staff Writer Edward Sifuentes at (760) 740-5426 [email protected]


Comments are closed.