The roots of tribal casinos nationwide lie in Riverside County and the severe poverty that Native American tribes were desperate to escape. Indian reservations casinos near me.
Memories of past destitution and a determination to remain self-sufficient no matter what happens to the gambling industry have spurred gaming tribes to economically diversify, adding more and more attractions to casino-based resorts and investing in hotels, office buildings and almond groves.
The first tribal gaming operations were bingo halls that opened more than 40 years ago on reservations in California and other states. For years, their legality remained in question.
In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision that quashed attempts by the state and Riverside County to shut down bingo halls on the reservations of the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, and card games on the Cabazon reservation. The justices said tribes have wide-ranging sovereignty over their lands.
The court ruled, though, that the federal government can regulate gambling on reservations and give states a role in regulation.
That led to the passage the following year of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which allowed states to negotiate compacts with tribes for casinos, subject to federal approval.
The law allowed “class two” gambling on reservations in states that already allowed them off-reservation.
Class two includes bingo, poker and other gambling in which players compete against each other, not the house.
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The more lucrative “class three” casinos include slot machines and blackjack. Californians voted twice to allow such casinos on Native American land in the state, first in 1998 and, after that initiative was overturned by the California Supreme Court as a violation of the state constitution, in a constitutional amendment in 2000.
Sixty-one California tribes now have gaming operations, and they generated $7 billion in revenue – more than the casinos on the Las Vegas Strip – in fiscal 2013, according to the National Indian Gaming Commission, a federal agency.
PULLING TRIBES OUT OF POVERTY
Until the advent of tribal gaming, reservations on which glimmering casinos stand today were mired in poverty.
San Manuel Chairwoman Lynn Valbuena recalled how as late as the 1950s, the 800-acre reservation near Highland did not have electricity or running water. Before the first bingo hall opened in 1986, most houses were made of rock. Many roads were unpaved. The entire annual tribal budget some years was $300. Jobs were scarce.
“We’d stand in line and wait for the welfare trucks and big brown paper sacks,” Valbuena recalled. “We’d wait for the canned food and dried food to be dropped in. If we didn’t have milk, we’d eat cornflakes with water and put the bowl under the faucet. And if it was milk, it was powdered milk.”
The remote locations of most California Indian reservations combined with other factors to prevent major economic development.
Daniel Tucker, chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, said his San Diego County tribe – the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation – tried to raise revenue through weekend motorcycle racing, but that generated only limited income. The tribe thought of growing grapes and avocados but discovered the crops wouldn’t grow in the poor soil.
“If I open a Jack in the Box here, no one will come,” Tucker said. “It had to be something that catches people’s eyes to get them to come out.”
Sycuan and San Manuel are close enough to urban areas and freeways to run big, successful casinos. Other California tribes are too isolated and either don’t have casinos or only have enough potential customers to run small operations.
The uneven benefits of gaming mean Native Americans are still more likely to be poor and unemployed than non-Indians, said Katherine Spilde, chairwoman of the Sycuan Institute on Tribal Gaming at San Diego State University. But gaming has narrowed the gap and improved the lives even of people living on nongaming reservations, she said.
State law requires that tribes with larger casinos pay into a fund that is distributed to tribes without casinos or those with 350 or fewer gaming machines. The current annual payment to each of those 72 tribes is $1.1 million.
The money, Spilde said, has paid for tribal halls and community centers, new roads, day care and other services.
In the past, tribes relied heavily on aid from the federal government, which told tribes how to spend the money, she said. Tribes can spend their casino-related revenue and grants however they wish.
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“It’s nation building on their own terms,” Spilde said.
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