Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
From the Los Angeles Daily News:
Article Launched: 01/22/2006 12:00:00 AM
Indian gaming woes
By Jan Golab, Guest Columnist
Lobbyist Jack Abramoff's revelations of political corruption should come as no surprise. A tsunami of scandals has been all but inevitable ever since "tribal sovereignty" was codified by Congress in 1988 with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Thanks to IGRA, Indian gaming has grown from nothing in just 20 years into a $19 billion-a-year industry and our nation's largest special-interest group. Today, virtually every politician in Washington has taken money from Indian tribes. Some lawmakers have, in turn, served as legislative activists, expanding tribal sovereignty, often pushing through legislation to recognize previously unknown "tribes" or "tribal lands." This form of "reservation shopping," which has led to many new gambling resorts, is truly scandalous.
But it has made Abramoff and his partner, Michael Scanlon, rich. The two collected more than $80 million in three years in fees from Indian tribes trying to get casinos — or block other tribes from getting casinos — to buy influence on Capitol Hill. Experts say they are only the tip of the iceberg in a growing scandal. Among the California legislators who may now soon be subject to scrutiny are Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and Reps. George Miller, D-Vallejo; Mary Bono, R-Palm Springs; Hilda Solis, D-El Monte; and Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino.
Corruption was unavoidable because the notion of tribal sovereignty — a government within a government — is a concept from another age that no longer works today.
The notion goes back a century to when native populations were dispossessed, to when the U.S. was an agrarian nation without the modern economic development it has today. By the 1960s, those Indians who still remained on reservations were entrapped in squalor, suffering from the nation's worst poverty, lack of education, alcoholism and disease. In the 1980s, some tribes began to resurrect and champion the concept of "tribal sovereignty" as a means to establish economic development.
The roots of the Indian gaming revolution were truly humble. It began here in Southern California, with tax-free roadside cigarettes in Indio, Quonset hut bingo parlors, clapboard card rooms and, finally, casinos. Although repeatedly closed down by local and state authorities, these businesses survived due to favorable court rulings. "Tribal sovereignty" was finally recognized by the Supreme Court in the 1987 case of U.S. v. Cabazon. Eager to show simpatico with Indian tribes, Congress hastily passed IGRA in 1988.
However well-intentioned, IGRA has since proved to be a terrible law. Vague, fuzzy and unclear, it soon led to the granting of lucrative monopolies on gambling within states that do not otherwise allow gambling. This quickly became a mechanism for the gambling industry to enter states where gambling had been illegal for more than a century. It also pitted tribes against tribes, against their own members and communities, and created impossible entanglements of governance and jurisdiction.
Enter Jack Abramoff.
The amount of money to be made in Indian gaming was staggering, but depended on whether a tribe could qualify for recognition, and whether it could keep competition out of the area. Lawmakers suddenly had the power to make or break billion-dollar corporations, which turned to high-priced lobbyists to do their bidding.
And while tribal gaming has brought lobbyists, the casino industry and some Indian tribes and their leaders staggering wealth, most Indians still live in poverty. Between 1988 and 1998, poverty and unemployment rates changed little on our nation's reservations. In 2000, The Boston Globe concluded that just 2 percent of Indians earned 50 percent of all tribal gaming revenues, and that two-thirds got nothing at all. Members of gaming tribes are often unable to obtain information on how much their own tribe is earning or how it is being distributed. Others have been expelled from their tribes by tribal leaders seeking to increase their own share of the profits.
The unintended consequences of IGRA are both Byzantine and well-documented, even though members of Congress, who have come to rely on tribal campaign donations, steadfastly pretend to be unaware of them.
Aggrieved citizens cite a litany of woes: Tribal casinos have a negative impact on roads, water and land consumption; fire, police and ambulance service; air pollution and traffic. They flood local schools with the children of low-income casino workers, who also create a shortage of affordable housing. They hurt or bankrupt competing concerns like motels, restaurants, bars and gas stations. They cause property devaluation and lost taxes when businesses and lands are taken over by tax-exempt tribes, altering community character and the quality of life. They necessitate lengthy and expensive legal battles over tribal land annexation, environmental and land-use regulations, sovereign immunity from lawsuits and police jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, the social costs of gambling include increased bankruptcies, foreclosures, divorces, child abuse and crime.
And who pays for it all? State and local — not tribal — governments, which are often left teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
Dismayed citizens whisper of skyrocketing crime due to casinos, particularly high drug activity; drunk driving and high-speed chases; of kids exposed to gambling, alcohol and drugs; of spoiled environments and destroyed habitats. Local officials, who should be protecting these citizens, are often bought off.
All of which has ultimately proved most damaging to the very people tribal sovereignty and gambling were supposed to help. One Indian commentator, David Yeagley, has already predicted that casinos will cause Indians to lose their tribal status and their reservations. "Casinos will destroy Indians," he has written. "The American people will call for the government to eliminate the reservations completely. Laws will ensue. It's just a matter of time."
In the wake of Jack Abramoff, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., has already called for comprehensive reform of Indian gaming law, as well as a two-year moratorium on casino expansion. Given the corruption that the failed experiment has created, that seems like a no-brainer.
Indeed, Congress created this mess. It's time Congress cleaned it up.
Jan Golab is a freelance writer living in the San Fernando Valley.
A Native replies
Posted: January 27, 2006
by: Editors Report / Indian Country Today
Editors' note: We are always glad to see leaders in Indian country respond to media misinformation. The recent rash of anti-Indian opinion pieces requires the serious attention of all tribal columnists, journalists, researchers and letter-writers. The following was submitted by John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, as a response to a column by Jan Golab, "Indian Gaming Woes," published in the Los Angeles Daily News.
Campaign finance system, not tribes, to blame for scandal
Those of us who live in the real world frequently marvel that many of your guest columnists seem to live in another galaxy. Today's column by Jan Golab ["Indian gaming woes," Jan. 22] is a stellar example. Golab, a former Playboy editor, has published numerous other attacks on tribes and sovereignty, which he says is "a festering problem." This column, like his other work, is crammed with outright factual errors, incorrect conclusions and undisguised racial hatred. It is surprising and disappointing that the Los Angeles Daily News chose to publish it.
First, the factual errors. Golab is wrong about tribal sovereignty and [the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act]. Tribal sovereignty was not "codified" by [IGRA]. It was established as a fundamental principle under the U.S. Constitution, which recognizes tribes in the same way it recognizes the states. More than a century of legal precedents from the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts has confirmed that tribes are, indeed, self-governing nations within the United States. They exist in this fashion because their existence as governments pre-dates the establishment of the U.S. government itself. When tribes ceded lands to the United States, they did so in exchange for a promise that they would have the right to govern themselves in perpetuity. Even Mr. Golab presumably understands that "in perpetuity" means forever, not just until it becomes inconvenient for others.
Golab was also 100 percent wrong in his review of IGRA's origin and impact. The passage of IGRA in 1988 followed the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the 1987 California v. Cabazon [Band of Mission Indians] case. That decision did not give tribes the right to gamble in "states that do not otherwise allow gambling." In fact, it held the opposite -- that sovereign Indian tribes could conduct gaming operations on tribal lands without state interference as long as gaming was otherwise legal in the state. Many states had authorized lotteries, pari-mutuel wagering, and/or some forms of casino gambling for charity purposes. The court held that tribes could not be denied the right to gamble on tribal lands if others in the state were allowed to gamble under existing state law.
Then came IGRA. Congress was not, as Golab claims, "eager to show 'simpatico"' (that's so Hollywood) with Indian tribes. In fact, IGRA was the result of pressure on Congress from state governors and attorneys general who, concerned about the Supreme Court decision, demanded that Congress give them some measure of control over tribal gaming activities. So Congress passed IGRA, which actually limited tribal sovereignty by requiring that tribes negotiate agreements with states in order to conduct Class III casino-style gaming. Many tribes opposed IGRA because they believed it gave states too much power over them.
Golab's fourth egregious error was in characterizing Indian gaming as "our nation's largest special-interest group." Tribal contributions to congressional campaigns are small compared with those from other groups. In 2004, tribal contributions to congressional campaigns comprised one-third of one percent of the total contributions made, about $7.2 million out of a total $2.05 billion. During the same 2004 election cycle, the defense industry spent $15.6 million, the commercial banking industry $31 million, the health care industry $73.9 million, and the retirement industry $184 million. Where is the outcry about these big spenders?
Back to the factual errors. Golab declares that "reservation shopping" has resulted in "many new gambling resorts" and is "truly scandalous." Again, he is wrong. For the record, only three off-reservation land-into-trust transactions have been approved since IGRA was passed in 1988. Only 15 tribes have received federal recognition since 1978, and only one of those tribes has gaming. Most of those recognition claims had been pending for years, having been initiated long before Indian gaming was a glimmer in anyone's eye. Sixteen petitions for recognition have been denied since 1978. These facts can be verified by the National Indian Gaming Association, which keeps such records.
If one examines today's headlines, it becomes clear that there is not so much "reservation shopping" as "Indian shopping." Many of the high-profile proposals for off-reservation gaming expansion have been initiated not by tribes but by non-Indian communities, state governments or private companies that would partner with tribes to solve their own economic problems.
The "litany of woes" attributed to tribal gaming is stunningly off the mark, and again presented without a shred of evidence. The actual facts show that where tribal gaming operates, property values have substantially increased, business start-ups have increased, average wages have improved, the tax base has expanded, and welfare costs have dropped. Since most casino workers make substantially more than the minimum wage, they are a positive economic force in their local communities.
Especially disturbing is Golab's comment about "flooding local schools with the children of low-income casino workers." The racist overtones of such a statement cannot be ignored. Does he object to the schools serving the children of other low-income workers? Or is it just that some of these children might be Indian? Since the federal government pays school districts to serve Indian children, not a nickel of their education comes out of the pocket of local taxpayers. In most cases, school districts receive more in federal Indian education aids than they actually spend on the children.
Only about six of the 224 gaming tribes in the United States dealt with [Jack] Abramoff. The tribes that hired him committed no crime, other than trusting someone who shouldn't have been trusted. No court has suggested that the tribes are in any way culpable for Abramoff's appallingly unethical conduct. By ordering Abramoff to pay restitution to his tribal clients, the courts have recognized these governments as the victims, not the villains.
Even so, because of the Abramoff scandal, Indian tribes have become the scapegoats in a cynical game of political spin. Congress did create a mess, but not by passing IGRA. It made a mess by creating a campaign finance system that promotes the kind of large-scale abuse we're seeing now. Indians didn't create the rules, they just play by them.
It isn't Indian gaming that's at fault here, nor is it individual Indian tribes. It's the failed campaign finance system. To fault Indian tribes for that failure is nothing but racist demagoguery. But that is apparently Mr. Golab's specialty. Shame on the Los Angeles Daily News for giving him a forum to air his ignorance and bigotry.
John McCarthy is executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, which represents nine of the 11 gaming tribes in Minnesota.
A few more responses to complement John McCarthy's fine rebuttal:
>> A tsunami of scandals has been all but inevitable ever since "tribal sovereignty" was codified by Congress in 1988 with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. <<
So where's the tsunami? The Abramoff scandal is one scandal, not 10 or 20 or 50 scandals.
>> Thanks to IGRA, Indian gaming has grown from nothing in just 20 years into a $19 billion-a-year industry and our nation's largest special-interest group. <<
Largest special-interest group? Where does this dubious factoid come from? McCarthy effectively destroyed it in his rebuttal.
>> This form of "reservation shopping," which has led to many new gambling resorts, is truly scandalous. <<
"Many"? Wrong, as McCarthy pointed out. There are still only a handful of off-reservation casinos. See The Facts About Indian Gaming—Corruption for details.
>> Experts say they are only the tip of the iceberg in a growing scandal. <<
I haven't heard any expert say that. If more scandals are brewing, they're brewing between other lobbyists and Republican politicians, not between other tribes and Jack Abramoff.
>> Among the California legislators who may now soon be subject to scrutiny are Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and Reps. George Miller, D-Vallejo; Mary Bono, R-Palm Springs; Hilda Solis, D-El Monte; and Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino. <<
Six months later, there's been little or no scrutiny of them—probably because they haven't done anything wrong.
>> Corruption was unavoidable because the notion of tribal sovereignty — a government within a government — is a concept from another age that no longer works today. <<
Says who? Based on what standard? Actually, as studies have shown, sovereignty works just fine. See The Facts About Tribal Sovereignty for details.
>> Vague, fuzzy and unclear, it soon led to the granting of lucrative monopolies on gambling within states that do not otherwise allow gambling. <<
Wrong again, as McCarthy pointed out. A state must allow some form of gambling before a tribe can open a casino. That point was central to the Cabazon decision.
>> It also pitted tribes against tribes, against their own members and communities, and created impossible entanglements of governance and jurisdiction. <<
Most Indian casinos are operating just fine, with few "entanglements of governance and jurisdiction." And IGRA didn't create these so-called entanglements, since tribes have been exercising their Constitution-based sovereignty for decades.
>> And while tribal gaming has brought lobbyists, the casino industry and some Indian tribes and their leaders staggering wealth, most Indians still live in poverty. <<
That's because gaming is an economic option for tribes, not a mandatory program. So what is Golab saying? That more tribes should be encouraged to open casinos and thus reap the benefits?
In 2000, The Boston Globe concluded that just 2 percent of Indians earned 50 percent of all tribal gaming revenues, and that two-thirds got nothing at all.
These statistics are six years out of date. The casino-building boom of the early 2000s has undoubtedly spread the wealth to a greater percentage of Indians.
But if these facts are true, it's probably because two-thirds of Indians don't belong to tribes that conduct gaming. The Navajo are the biggest example of such a tribe.
Again, so what? Gaming is helping the tribes that pursue it and isn't helping the tribes that don't pursue it. There's nothing sinister or even mysterious about that.
>> Others have been expelled from their tribes by tribal leaders seeking to increase their own share of the profits. <<
That's what critics like Golab like to think. But these tribes often offer other explanations for disenrolling members. Critics like Golab haven't proved that a single case of expulsion was due to "tribal leaders seeking to increase their own share of the profits."
>> Aggrieved citizens cite a litany of woes <<
And unaggreived citizens don't cite a litany of woes. Rather, they cite a litany of benefits such as jobs and construction. That explains why most communities think positively about the casinos in their midst after they've grown comfortable with them.
Indian casinos bankrupting government?!
>> And who pays for it all? State and local — not tribal — governments, which are often left teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. <<
I haven't heard of any state or local government teetering anywhere close to the brink of bankruptcy because of an Indian casino. This is a silly scare tactic, nothing more.
Tribes pay a huge share of their revenues to states for the right to conduct gaming. Some of this is dedicated to the communities in which the Indian casinos operate. If states don't spend more of their take on ameliorating local problems...well, whose fault is that?
>> Dismayed citizens whisper of skyrocketing crime due to casinos, particularly high drug activity; drunk driving and high-speed chases; of kids exposed to gambling, alcohol and drugs; of spoiled environments and destroyed habitats. <<
"Spoiled environments and destroyed habitats"? I don't recall a single case of an Indian casino being accused of harming the environment or a natural habitat. Where is Golab getting all these wild-eyed accusations from?
>> All of which has ultimately proved most damaging to the very people tribal sovereignty and gambling were supposed to help. <<
What's damaging Indians more is people like Golab stirring up resentment against them with lies and half-truths. And blaming the victim—tribes—for the malfeasance of corrupt lobbyists and politicians.
>> One Indian commentator, David Yeagley, has already predicted that casinos will cause Indians to lose their tribal status and their reservations. <<
The far right-wing Yeagley is as biased against Indians as Golab seems to be.
>> "The American people will call for the government to eliminate the reservations completely. Laws will ensue. It's just a matter of time." <<
Yeagley, meet Golab. Golab is one of those Americans who appears ready to eliminate sovereign tribes. As we can tell from the following:
Corruption was unavoidable because the notion of tribal sovereignty — a government within a government — is a concept from another age that no longer works today.
>> Given the corruption that the failed experiment has created, that seems like a no-brainer. <<
The only no-brainer here is Golab's column.
"Failed experiment"? See how hugely successful this so-called failure has been in Hard Evidence that Indian Gaming Works.
And what corruption...the Abramoff scandal? Convicting Abramoff has ended that particular scandal. Golab doesn't list any other scandals, just made-up or manageable problems with Indian gaming. Here's a news flash: unhappiness with a casino doesn't constitute a scandal or corruption.
Whew. See The Critics of Indian Gaming—and Why They're Wrong for more on Golab's anti-Indian views.
The facts about Indian gaming
The facts about tribal sovereignty
. . .
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