Quapaw leader: No plans for casino on land near LR port

 PHOTO BY RICK MCFARLANDArkansas Democrat-Gazette/RICK MCFARLAND --04/14/15-- John Berrey, chairman Quapaw tribe, with Tamela Tenpenny-Lewis (center) and Carla Coleman, both with Preservation of African-American Cemetaries, near the 160 acres that the Quapaw tribe owns on Thibault Rd. in Pulaski County Tuesday. A Quapaw burial site also contains graves of slaves.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/RICK MCFARLAND –04/14/15– John Berrey, chairman Quapaw tribe, with Tamela Tenpenny-Lewis (center) and Carla Coleman, both with Preservation of African-American Cemetaries, near the 160 acres that the Quapaw tribe owns on Thibault Rd. in Pulaski County Tuesday. A Quapaw burial site also contains graves of slaves.

By Emily Walkenhorst, ArkansasOnline.com

In a deep, commanding voice, Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma Chairman John Berrey said he feels the presence of his ancestors on the former Thibault plantation southeast of Little Rock.

“There’s something physical that happens to us out here,” he said, looking out onto the green pasture and trees that surround the graves of Quapaws from more than 100 years ago, when the tribe still inhabited Arkansas before members were moved to northeast Oklahoma.

Tribal elders cry when they arrive at the land, he said, standing at the edge of a vast puddle at the land’s western border, dressed in a dark suit and textured brown leather boots, with large jeweled rings and metal wrist pieces matching a turquoise bolo tie.

His journey across Pulaski County last week included a stop in which he was greeted like an old friend at the Arkansas Heritage Museum, where his family members are quoted in the tribal exhibit.

As Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma officials seek to have its 160 acres in Pulaski County placed into federal trust, taking it out of local jurisdiction, tribal leaders have faced suspicion from the city and the county that they intend to build a casino on the property.

Tribal leaders haven’t said no, but they maintain that they don’t have plans to pursue a casino. They focus on the history of the land, which is just south of the multimillion-dollar Little Rock industrial port.

“We really believe it’s our responsibility to protect it,” Berrey said.

The tribe would need only for the land to be accepted into trust and determined as “last recognized reservation” land for a casino to be built. Berrey said the land could be considered “last recognized reservation” land in the future, but that’s not a process he is pursuing.

Little Rock leaders are concerned that the city and the Little Rock Port Authority don’t have binding agreements about what the tribe would do with the land, if acquired into trust.

“It’s that dangling fear of the future — what might happen,” At-Large City Director Dean Kumpuris told Berrey at a city board meeting.

Some note the tribe’s problems with plans for two casino projects in Kansas — one of which resulted in a state lawsuit against the National Indian Gaming Commission and U.S. Department of the Interior, and the other of which was eventually dropped — as signs that the tribe may not be straightforward.

“I think that’s our biggest concern,” City Director Lance Hines told Berrey. “What’s to stop you from changing your mind?”


The tribe secured its 160 acres outside Little Rock through 80-acre purchases in 2012 and 2013 for a total of $1,372,000. The tribe has no other land in Arkansas, although it’s interested in purchasing acreage near the Big River Steel project in Mississippi County.

The Quapaw tribe — native to Arkansas and the source of the state’s name — has reclaimed a little of what it lost over the years, through the discovery of tribal artifacts and grave sites where the tribe later purchased the land in Pulaski County.

Several years ago, historians from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff uncovered pottery fragments and other items from Quapaw burial mounds, including an iron spike, an iron buckle and parts of bowls and bottles.

Berrey said these artifacts are distinctly Quapaw, representing craftsmanship that was so popular it can be found among artifacts from across the Americas.

The Quapaw tribe isn’t alone on that land; the graves of American slaves were discovered on top of the Quapaw burial grounds.

The tribe has since formed a partnership with the Little Rock-based Preservation of African-American Cemeteries group to protect the area. The groups’ bond has even translated into a joint conference at the Oklahoma Downstream Casino Resort in May on preserving the graves of ancestors.

Carla Coleman, co-founder of the Preservation of African-American Cemeteries group, recalled the time that she and other group members visited the grave sites on the Quapaw land for the first time.

“It was just spiritual,” she said.

Tamela Tenpenny-Lewis, another co-founder, said many graves in other places are lost because of development, agriculture or industry.

Berrey said he wants to protect these graves by acquiring the land into federal trust to prevent alienation, which is the ability of a property or property rights to be sold or transferred.


The tribe operates two casinos, both in northeast Oklahoma, that have generated more than $1 billion of economic impact in the past five years, benefiting schools, scholarships and roads.

The Downstream Development Authority opened the 1 million-square-foot Downstream Casino Resort in Quapaw, Okla., on July 5, 2008, on behalf of the Quapaw tribe at the cost of $301 million. A casino fact sheet describes the spot as a “Las Vegas-style destination resort.”

The tribe owns a second casino — a much smaller venture called Quapaw Casino — just 4 miles south of Downstream.

A few months ago, the tribe announced plans for a third casino, this one in Kansas, to be built with Kansas native Phil Ruffin, a Las Vegas billionaire known for casinos and his joint venture with Donald Trump to put up Trump International Tower in Chicago.

But the tribe withdrew from those plans after Kansas officials sued the federal government March 9, arguing that federal law was improperly applied on a different piece of Quapaw land just north of Downstream Casino Resort in Cherokee County, Kan., where the tribe had planned an expansion of Downstream Casino.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt wrote that tribe officials also broke their promise that the land — acquired into federal trust in 2012 — would not be used for a casino when they announced plans last year to expand the Downstream resort.

A Kansas law passed in 2007 allows for casinos with a minimum investment of $225 million in Cherokee and Crawford counties in southeast Kansas, Dodge City, Kansas City and Wichita, although no casinos have been established there since then.

In 2014, Kansas legislators passed a new law that would decrease the minimum amount of investment required to build a casino from $225 million to $50 million.

Afterward, Kansas proposed three state casinos in Cherokee and Crawford counties that are now awaiting approval from the Kansas Lottery.

Berrey said that change in law presented competition to the tribe’s Oklahoma casino that borders Kansas, prompting the tribe to pursue the casino projects. He added that the tribe had already considered its Kansas property to be gaming land and did not deceive government officials.

The Downstream Casino Resort is so close to the border that the casino has parking spaces in Cherokee County, Kan., where the tribe owns 124 acres of “last recognized reservation” land.

Under federal law, tribes can establish gaming on land acquired into federal trust after Oct. 17, 1988, only if it is “last recognized reservation” land, meaning it was acquired in a recognized treaty and the tribe is present. Presence includes the tribe’s exercise of its own authority on the land and the presence of tribal members on the land. The land also must be in a state with no present-day reservation for that tribe as of Oct. 17, 1988.

Berrey said that same designation could apply in the future to its Pulaski County property, where the tribe had land through an 1800s treaty, but “that’s a whole ‘nother application. That’s something we’re not even looking at.”

The tribe acquired its 124 acres in Cherokee County, Kan., nearly 10 years ago and placed it into federal trust in 2012.

According to the Kansas attorney general’s March 9 complaint in U.S. District Court in Kansas, state leaders wrote letters objecting to the trust before it was granted, believing the property would be used for gambling. The complaint adds that Cherokee County officials withdrew their objection after tribal leaders assured them that the land would not be used for gambling.

In 2013, according to the filing, tribal leaders requested a legal opinion from the National Indian Gaming Commission on whether the land could be used for gambling.

In late 2014, the commission’s acting general counsel issued an opinion that said it could be used for gambling, citing its “last recognized reservation” status.

Tribal leaders then quickly announced plans to expand Downstream Casino Resort into Kansas.

Less than two weeks after the Kansas attorney general filed suit over the National Indian Gaming Commission’s decision, Berrey said tribal leaders would no longer pursue the casino with Ruffin.


The Quapaw tribe now leases most of the land in Pulaski County to a soybean farmer. But Berrey said the tribe eventually plans to grow crops on the land to give food to the Arkansas Foodbank.

Berrey also has offered memorandums of understanding to Little Rock and to the Little Rock Port Authority that would be binding agreements on certain issues, such as how the Port Authority should handle any Indian remains it might uncover.

When asked whether the tribe intended to include provisions in those agreements that would subject the land to state laws governing gambling, Berrey said, “I don’t think so.

“We’re not talking about that. It’s about the cultural stuff.”

Berrey said he would “probably” sign an agreement restricting the tribe from acquiring more land in the area.

“We don’t want to bind ourselves in the future, 20 years from now, based on something signed 20 years ago,” he said, adding that he believed Pulaski County residents would eventually see “a lot of value” in the tribe’s use of the land.

Arkansas law allows only for Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs and Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis to exist, but not all state laws may apply once land is acquired in federal trust.

The tribe’s application indicates that placing land into federal trust would remove it from state and local jurisdiction, but the application also states that activities on the land would remain subject to state laws “to the extent afforded by existing federal law.”

Berrey said the laws that would remain intact would be criminal and civil procedures — offenses that would lead to arrests, such as raiding a grave site.

But Little Rock and county officials are concerned that those laws wouldn’t govern everything they’re worried about.

Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde and County Attorney Amanda Mitchell have until May 13 — after receiving a 30-day extension — to respond to a request by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Nashville, Tenn., for information on the financial effect of removing the land from local tax rolls.

Although the land was purchased for nearly $1.4 million, it is appraised at only $85,350.

Hyde said he’s still gathering opinions and information and doesn’t know what the county will say to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. But Hyde said he doesn’t understand why the tribe isn’t considering keeping the land in local jurisdiction and seeking protections for the land through conservation easement, which would prohibit development, or some other arrangement with local government.

“It’s hard to be a real part of the community when you play by your own rules,” he said. Hyde said whether the county would oppose gambling on the land depends on input from the land’s “neighbors,” including the Port Authority and College Station.

The state also has the opportunity to give input to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Gov. Asa Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis did not respond to requests for more information.

Port Authority Executive Director Bryan Day said he is opposed to any use of the land that doesn’t benefit or complement the industrial port, which is a large public-private investment just south of the Arkansas River. Day said an inappropriate use could be a casino, a water park or a fast-food restaurant — anything that would increase nonindustrial traffic.

Little Rock Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jay Chesshir echoed Day’s concern and said the tribe’s activities in Kansas “give rise to questions.”

“Hopefully, the Bureau of Indian Affairs will take any concerns that we bring forward into consideration,” Day said.

Metro on 04/20/2015

Print Headline: Quapaw leader: No plans for casino on land near LR port

Tribal Deal Would Set Number of Gambling Machines in Wash. State

Associated Press
Associated Press



The number of gambling machines in Washington state tribal casinos is set to increase by several thousand and rise automatically in the future under a compact recently approved by state legislators and the state Gambling Commission.

The compact between 27 of the state’s 29 tribes would allow a 10 percent bump to the state’s 28,000 slot-style machines and make future adjustments based on gambling demands.

Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign the compact, and send it to the U.S. Department of Interior for final approval.

In years past, determining the maximum number of gambling machines in the state required gathering representatives from casino and non-casino tribes for rounds of controversial negotiations.Many of the state’s rural tribes don’t have casinos, but can profit from leasing their allotment of machines to casinos on other reservations. When casinos are allowed to add machines, non-casino tribes stand to lose leases and a critical source of income.

Under the new agreement, if the total number of leasable machines dips below 500, tribes can automatically increase the statewide cap by 50 machines per tribe. “These amendments allow for market-based growth and only if there is a real need,” said Chris Stearns, chairman of the state gambling commission. “It saves the state and the tribes a lot of effort and it removes a lot of tension. That made a lot of sense to us.”

The state’s $2.2 billion casino gambling industry has leveled off some in recent years after a period of significant growth, according to the state gambling commission. Tribal leaders representing the state’s 28 casinos say they expect machine gambling to grow moderately in the coming years.

Stearns said he wasn’t aware of any other states that have taken a similar market-based approach to setting caps on slots or gambling machines.

Gambling law in Washington State prohibits traditional slots that set odds within individual machines. Instead, machine players win based on a back-end lottery system.

Tucked away on remote coastline, the Quileute reservation is one of the non-casino tribes that could lose out on leasing revenue if machine caps were set too high. Speaking before the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee in Olympia, Quileute chairman Charles Woodruff said the new compact had the support of small tribes and would ensure more Quileute youth would enter college. “Without these gaming revenues to help kids along the way, it wouldn’t be possible,” he said.

The state’s two federally recognized tribes that did not sign the compact — the Muckleshoot and the Puyallup — could still benefit from cap increases in the future.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/02/20/tribal-deal-would-set-number-gambling-machines-wash-state-159299

Deal Would Allow More Gambling Machines At Tribal Casinos

By: Associated Press


TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — A tentative deal between Washington state and Indian tribes would allow more gambling machines at tribal casinos.

Over the years, the number of slot-style machines allowed has been set in prolonged and sometimes difficult negotiations, The News Tribunereported. But under the latest deal, the number — currently about 28,000 — would increase by 10 percent, and then automatically increase as market conditions dictate.

In theory, the number of machines could double over the next decade. But W. Ron Allen, with the Washington Indian Gaming Association, said that’s unlikely because the gambling market isn’t increasing that quickly.

The state Gambling Commission and four state lawmakers will vote next month on whether to send the deal to Gov. Jay Inslee for approval. At least one of those lawmakers, Republican Sen. Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla, said he opposes allowing the number of machines to increase in perpetuity unless the tribes agree to share some of their casino profits.

“In my opinion, this is probably the last shot we’ll ever get” to secure revenue sharing, Hewitt said.

Amy Hunter, who leads the commission’s communications and legal division, said that under the deal, state negotiators secured full compensation for the state’s costs for regulating the casinos. The existing fee arrangement falls short of that, she said.

The deal includes 27 of 29 tribes in the state — all but the Puyallup and Muckleshoot.

Under the terms, the gambling-machine limit would go up by 2,700, plus 1,350 more if the Cowlitz tribe in southwest Washington moves forward with a planned casino.

In any year that tribes come close to maxing out their new cap, the limit would rise again by another 1,350 statewide.

The long, steep climb of tribal gambling profits since casinos started opening in the 1990s leveled off last year, holding steady at $2.2 billion.

Tribal leaders say there isn’t enough demand for a major expansion of the gambling market. “I think it can only go so big anyway, and then the market is full,” said Mel Tonasket, vice chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

Nontribal businesses can have card rooms but not slot-style machines. The state constitution allows gambling to be authorized only by supermajorities of lawmakers or voters.

That makes it hard for the nontribal businesses to see an expansion of tribal gambling proposed.

“It’s hard for us to sit back and watch an expansion of gambling which if we wanted, would take a 60 percent vote of the Legislature to get,” said Dolores Chiechi, executive director of the Recreational Gaming Association, which represents card rooms.

There’s not enough support in the Legislature for her group to resume its push for machines in card rooms this year, Chiechi said.

Tribal casinos in Wash. state to refuse welfare cards

Associated Press; KOMO News


OLYMPIA, Wash. – Tribal casinos in Washington will no longer cash welfare cards under an agreement with the state Gambling Commission.

The commission said Tuesday that 27 of the 29 federally recognized tribes in the state have agreed to amend gambling agreements to ensure that all cash dispensing and point-of-sale machines refuse electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards.

The state-issued EBT cards, also known as a “Quest Card,” are intended to help the needy purchase food items at grocery stores.

The agreement is one of several the commission is recommending to the Legislature.

Report: South Dakota American Indian casino revenue rose 14 percent in 2012

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota — South Dakota’s Native American-owned casinos had among the fastest revenue growth nationwide in 2012, according to a report that also found spending nationally at tribal casinos slowed that year.

Revenue at the 13 Indian gambling facilities operated by nine tribes in the state rose about 14 percent in 2012, to $124 million, said Casino City’s Indian Gaming Industry Report.

The increase is likely due largely to a state law change that took effect July 1, 2012, that gave Deadwood and Indian casinos the option of raising maximum bet limits from $100 to $1,000, said Larry Eliason, executive director of the South Dakota Gaming Commission.

However, not all tribal casinos increased bet limits that much and any small increase can result in a large percentage change, he said.

“Whenever you’re dealing with percentages, we’ve got a pretty low base number, so it doesn’t take a lot to make a high percentage,” Eliason said.

Weston Quinn, chief financial officer and acting CEO of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe, said the tribe’s casinos in Watertown, Sisseton and Hankinson, North Dakota, had a great year because of the mild winter. All three are in rural areas, so the nice weather allowed elderly clients to get out, he said.

The tribe opted not to increase bet limits because it would have had to add pit bosses and other staff to look closely for cheaters, Quinn said.

“You have to watch people more closely,” he said. “With larger bets, you may bring in clientele you may not necessarily want.”

The tribe has started the process of roughly doubling the size of the gambling floor at its Hankinson casino, Quinn said.

Casino City’s report found that spending by gamblers slowed at U.S. Indian casinos in 2012 and the revenue growth of 8 percent fell behind nontribal casinos for the first time in 18 years.

The 13 Indian gambling operations in South Dakota offered slot machines, electronic bingo machines, blackjack, poker, off-track betting and bingo in 2012. Revenue on the 2,629 slot machines rose about 7 percent from the year before, but revenue from the 64 table games fell by roughly the same amount, the report said.

Besides the bet limit change, the report noted the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe’s plans to renovate its Royal River Casino and Hotel in Flandreau and add more machines. The tribe also has proposed a casino resort in Sioux Falls.

Seth Pearman, attorney for the Santee Sioux, said in an email the tribe has also added other ways to draw people, including a pheasant hunting operation called “Rooster River.”

“Although the Royal River Casino has had substantial competition from out-of-state casinos, it has remained consistent in the past year,” Pearman wrote.

Fatter Wallets = Skinnier Kids: Casinos Associated With Lower Obesity Rates

New research shows that opening a new or expanding an existing tribal casino is associated with a reduction in childhood obesity. The finding is extremely important, according to researchers, because overweight/obesity is a significant problem among American Indian children and adults and because being overweight or obese in childhood has impacts that can eventually become life-threatening.

The research does not prove a causal relationship between casino development and fewer overweight/obese kids, but it does strongly suggest that such a relationship exists. Johns Hopkins’ Department of International Health’s Jessica C. Jones-Smith, lead investigator for the project, says, “This is a strong study that is not as methodologically rigorous as a randomized control trial but that offers better evidence towards causality than most other observational designs.”

The research also shows that the reduction in overweight/obese children associated with casino development appears to be long-lasting. Jones-Smith says, “In this time period of 2001 to 2012 different tribes opened their casinos at different times, and we did look at whether the time that you opened the casino had any impact on our estimate of the casino’s impact on obesity. It didn’t, so it looks like throughout this time whenever you opened the casino you still experienced a decrease in the risk for obesity.” Thus, a tribe that opened a casino in the early 2000s showed the same reduction in overweight/obese children as one that opened a casino five or six years later.

Researchers looked at a total of 117 California school districts that encompassed tribal lands, based on information from the U.S. Census Bureau. Of those school districts, “57 gained or expanded a casino, 24 had a preexisting casino but did not expand, and 36 never had a casino.” Then they looked at BMI (body-mass index) for the children in those districts based on information supplied by the California Department of Education. Forty-eight percent of the BMI measurements for children whose parents identified the child’s race as American Indian or Alaska Native were classified as overweight/obese.

In school districts that encompassed tribal lands where a new casino had been built or an existing casino expanded between the years 2001 and 2012, the risk of being an overweight/obese AI/AN child dropped 0.19 percent per new slot machine. Since there were on average 13 new slots per capita, the total reduction in the risk of being overweight or obese averaged 2.47 percent. Each new slot represented a per capita increase in annual income of $541 and a decrease in the number of people living in poverty. For the average of 13 new slots per capita, this would mean a 7.8-percent reduction in the number of people living in poverty.

The investigators concluded that the most plausible explanation for their findings is that opening a new or expanding an existing casino increased families’ and communities’ economic resources and that in turn led to a decrease in the risk of children being overweight or obese.

Jones-Smith is an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The other investigators on the project were William H. Dow from the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, and Kristal Chichlowska, an independent consultant in Sacramento. The paper, “Association Between Casino Opening or Expansion and Risk of Childhood Overweight and Obesity,” was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in early March. The project was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/03/10/fatter-wallets-skinnier-kids-casinos-associated-lower-obesity-rates-153929

The Myth Of The Casino Cash Cow For Native Americans


Contrary to popular stereotypes about tax-exempt gambling profits on reservations, most Native Americans struggle to make ends meet.

The Fond-Du-Luth Casino in Duluth, Minnesota. (Photo/Michael Hicks via Flickr)
The Fond-Du-Luth Casino in Duluth, Minnesota. (Photo/Michael Hicks via Flickr)

By Katie Lentsch

October 23, 2013 MintPressNews

Today’s casinos of flashing lights and slot machines in smoke-filled rooms attract high rollers and bad losers. Many see casinos as a lucrative business for Native American reservations — but does this myth of money-making match reality?

Twenty-five percent of the U.S. population aged 21 and over visited a casino and participated in gambling in 2010. In that year alone, U.S. casinos enjoyed revenues of $34.6 billion, according to the American Gaming Association.

It’s a common assumption that the gaming industry is a cash cow for Native Americans, especially since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that as part of tribal sovereignty, state tax and regulatory laws do not necessarily apply to Native Americans living on reservations.

Tribal sovereignty refers to tribes’ right to govern themselves, define their own membership, manage property, and regulate tribal business and relations while recognizing a government-to-government relationship with states and the federal government. But despite tribes’ independence and exemptions, the Native American population as a whole comprises the minority living with the largest disparities in health, education and income in the United States.

The unemployment rate on some reservations can reach as high as 75 percent, with nearly 10 percent of all Native families being homeless. For some of those families who do have homes, they may lack electricity or running water, Liberation news reports.

Gaming has helped raise tribal communities out of poverty by providing funds for housing, schools, health care and education, as well as stable jobs for community members, but according to the Native American Rights Fund, of the estimated 560 federally recognized American Indian nations, only 224 are involved in gaming. Tribes who are geographically located on rural, unpopulated land may never take part in the industry, while those who reside near major urban areas benefit the most from gaming operations.

Can tribal sovereignty exist within a city?

The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa not only has a casino on its reservation in northern Minnesota, but one that is located 20 miles to the east in downtown Duluth. With the “Fond-du-Luth” casino establishment located outside of the reservation, issues pertaining to tribal sovereignty and gaming revenues are currently being disputed by city leaders.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that because Fond-du-Luth is outside the reservation, a 1994 agreement was enacted, stating that the casino would pay a 19 percent “rent” of its gross income for 25 years and an unspecified rate for the following 25 years to the city in exchange for services. This provided Duluth with around $6 million income annually from the Fond du Lac band, but in 2009, the band stopped paying.

Karen Diver, chairwoman of the Fond du Lac band, said payments were halted when it began questioning the legality of the agreement. After asking the National Indian Gaming Commission to review the 1994 consent agreement, it found the agreement violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which requires tribes to have “sole proprietary interest” for tribal casinos.

The band negotiated a payment-per-services model, covering services like law enforcement and fire protection, but a U.S. District Court judge ruled this month that $10.4 million is owed from the Fond du Lac band’s halted payments from 2009 to 2011, which the band might be able to appeal.

The issues that arose in Duluth were similar to those when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) was onboard for a plan to build casinos under the Seneca Nation in Rochester and other areas upstate.

Initially, like Fond-du-Luth, there was discussion of the state government receiving a negotiated piece of the casino’s gross intake, but the sovereignty issue again posed question.

“How could you put a sovereign nation in the middle of your downtown?” said Lovely Warren, Rochester city council president.

Steve Siegel, formerly of the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Niagara University, told Rochester City Newspaper that most of the time, when a tax-exempt casino is placed on what is claimed to be sovereign land within an urban setting, all of the gain goes to the casino complex.

“Local businesses are devastated because they can’t compete with this massive nontaxable entity,” Siegel said.

Native Americans are still Americans

Although the casino institutions themselves are not federally taxed, in 2006 the IRS issued a bulletin stating that individual Native Americans, especially those living outside of a reservation, are still subject to federal income tax every year.

More than seven in ten Native Americans and Alaska Natives now live in metropolitan areas, and 27 percent live in poverty, according to the Census Bureau.

The bulletin states:

“While there are numerous valid treaties between various Federally Recognized Indian Tribal Governments and the United States government, some of which may contain language providing for narrowly defined tax exemptions, these treaties have limited application to specific tribes … Taxpayers who are affected by such treaty language must be a member of a particular tribe having a treaty and must cite that specific treaty in claiming any exemption. There is no general treaty that is applicable to all Native Americans.”

Even so, many Native American families subject to treaties are still not exempt from taxes. The IGRA has provisions that permit tribes to make per-capita distributions from gaming activities to tribe members and the community. But according to the bulletin, “Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, any distribution of casino gaming proceeds to individual tribe members is also subject to federal income tax.”

Essentially, Native Americans are living in a nation where the majority of its population is struggling to make ends meet. They face taxes and economic strife while trying to support their families. Some may sit more comfortably than others, but the late-night hours from visitors at the slot machines or blackjack tables don’t quite live up to the dream.

High-End Extras Aren’t A Sure Bet For Tribal Casinos


by Jessica Robinson, NWNewsNetwork

October 09, 2013



Jessica Robinson/Northwest News NetworkYvonne Smith is the director of La Rive Spa at Northern Quest Resort and Casino in Washington state. Across the country, Native American tribes are hoping high-end extras will draw visitors to casinos.
Jessica Robinson/Northwest News Network
Yvonne Smith is the director of La Rive Spa at Northern Quest Resort and Casino in Washington state. Across the country, Native American tribes are hoping high-end extras will draw visitors to casinos.

What used to be no-frills slot parlors off the highway are turning into resort-style destinations with spas, golf courses and luxury hotels. Native American tribes are hoping these added amenities will give them an edge in an increasingly competitive gaming market.

Three years ago, Northern Quest Resort and Casino in eastern Washington opened a luxury spa that’s been on the covers of and magazines. La Rive Spa has its own seasonal menu and moisturizers that cost as much as an iPod.

Nothing about this spa screams casino, by design. Spa director Yvonne Smith says it’s not what you’d expect from a casino in a field outside of Spokane. “The one thing I hear all the time is, ‘Oh my gosh, I had no idea this was here,’ ” she says.

Across the country, tribes are trying to step up their game. Casino profits plus more interest from investors have funded new spas, fine dining, concert venues and other amenities. Phil Haugen, a Kalispel Tribe member and manager of Northern Quest, says tribal casinos are now drawing clientele that might have otherwise chosen a weekend in Las Vegas or at a resort.

“It used to be that people thought tribal casinos were dirty and small and that they just didn’t have what Vegas had or what Atlantic City had,” Haugen says. “But now you have these first-class properties.”


Getting To The Gaming Floor

Out at the Circling Raven Golf Club in Worley, Idaho, Rhonda Seagraves drives her ball toward the first hole. Seagraves is a banker in north Idaho. She says this course at the Coeur d’Alene Casino is one of her favorite places to golf.

“It was just like this little hole in the wall, and now, it’s just spectacular,” Seagraves says.

But she says she is unlikely to gamble after her round — which runs counter to what these casinos are banking on.

“Those amenities are really designed to get people in and start gaming,” says Valerie Red-Horse, a financial analyst who specializes in tribal casinos.

Even with the resort amenities, these ventures still make 80 to 90 percent of their revenue from gambling. Red-Horse calls golfing and spas a loss leader.

“We had a client that had a beautiful facility, one of the prettiest markets I’ve ever worked in in New Mexico, actually. And it had big picture windows in the resort, and they had camping and they had hunting and they had skiing. Well, they found they were not making money because people were not going to the gaming floor,” Red-Horse says.

The casino restructured its debt and hired a management team that specialized in gaming.

In Idaho, former Coeur d’Alene Casino tribal chairman Dave Matheson has watched the operation grow from a buffet in a bingo hall to a restaurant with an award-winning chef. Matheson says the swanky expansions do drive business, but they’re also a source of pride.

“And I think it gives us a chance to prove what we can do,” Matheson says.

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s casino has expanded so much in the last few years, it’s been dubbed by workers “the world’s most hospitable construction site.”