Steve Stallings, newly elected chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA), discussed the good news, as well as the challenges facing tribal government gaming in a “State of the Industry” report at the organization’s 21(st) Annual Western Indian Gaming Conference, Feb 9-11, 2015 at Harrah’s Resort Southern California.
Tribal Gaming in California continues to expand in employment and revenues, with California tribes representing over 25 percent of the US total.  Of the 28.5 million generated in 2014, revenues for California’s tribal enterprises grew by 4.9 percent to 7.3 million, over the 6.9 million earned in 2013.
Stallings discussed the historic origins and accomplishments of the organization, which passed two state ballot measures, Proposition 5, a tribal/state compact, and Proposition 1A in 2000, changing the state constitution to grant Las Vegas, casino-style gaming exclusively to tribal governments on federally recognized tribal lands.  Proposition 1A’s passage secured the original tribal state compact negotiated by then Governor Gray Davis, and 63 California tribes, after a 10-year battle with the state to win a compact.
“We can measure CNIGA’s achievements by the success of Indian gaming and the dollars generated.  Alternatively, we can measure its contribution, over the past 20 plus years, by the people whose lives have been touched for the better because of Indian gaming.  We all have success stories, and for this, we owe CNIGA members, past and present,” stated Stallings, a member of the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians’ tribal council.
“We are sitting in Rincon’s success story,” Stallings pointed out, referring to the Harrah’s meeting room.  “It’s a nice conference room, beautiful resort, great restaurants, and so much more.  When you look around you see a meeting room, I see health care for our members.  You see a stage, I see a fire department, you see a buffet, and I see a tribal court.  The state of our industry is best reflected in the growing strength of our governments, the health of our communities, and our ability to better protect our sovereignty.”
Stallings congratulated the tribes for keeping their promise to voters that revenues from gaming would be used to create jobs and provide government services to reservations so that tribal people would be self-sufficient.   He also noted how tribal gaming has generated real economic benefits to all Californians, from jobs for non-Indians to sharing fire and police services with neighbors. In many rural communities and small cities, the tribes are the major philanthropic donors.
According to research by Beacon Economics, hired by CNIGA to report on the benefits of tribal gaming, many lives and communities beyond tribal reservations benefitted from tribal gaming. The 2014 analysis showed that California tribal government gaming had an $8 billion annual impact and supported more than 56,000 jobs for state residents.  There were 68 tribal gaming enterprises in 2014, up by four from 2012.
“The 2014 study serves as both an update and expansion to the previous 2013 study by adding research in the areas of non-gaming operations located at tribal casinos, such as hotels, spas, golf courses and concert halls, revenue sharing with non-gaming tribes and charitable contributions.  By expanding the report, Beacon Economics was able to measure the totality of benefits generated by tribal government gaming operations,” noted Stallings.
The study’s key findings included:
Tribal gaming generated $8 billion for California’s economy and supports 56,000 jobs statewide: Tribal gaming operations in California generated an estimated $8 billion in economic output in 2012 – $2.9 billion of which represented earnings by California workers – and supported over 56,000 jobs statewide.  The 2012 operations had a roughly 7%-7.5percentage larger impact on California economic activity than in 2010.
Expenditures totaled $62.8 million per tribe: Tribal gaming expenditures totaled roughly $62.8 million per tribe in 2012 and consisted predominantly of advertising, administration, food and drink, and gaming expenditures.
$4.2 billion in secondary effects: Over half of the economic output generated by tribal gaming operations came through secondary effects–$4.2 billion–indicating that tribal casinos have a substantial impact on the state economy above and beyond their own direct spending.
Non-gaming operations generated $2.3 billion output and supported 14,800 jobs: Tribal non-gaming operations in California generated an estimated $2.3 billion in economic output in 2012, supporting over 14,800 jobs statewide, and adding $1.2 billion in value to the state economy – of which $804.6 million represented income for California workers.
Tribal non-gaming operations directly employed 8,200 workers: Tribal non-gaming operations directly employed approximately 8,200 workers statewide and supported an additional 6,600 jobs through the secondary effects, such as income spent by tribal casino employees or earnings by suppliers of tribal casinos throughout the state.
Indirect effects substantial: The indirect effects of tribal non-gaming operations are substantial. Non-gaming operations stimulated nearly $100 million in economic activity for real estate firms, nearly $50 million for wholesale trade firms, and over $35 million for restaurants and bars throughout California.
Revenue sharing for tribes without casinos: Statewide revenue sharing for tribes without casinos generated more than $100 million in economic output for California and supported 433 jobs statewide in 2012.
California gaming tribes active in philanthropic giving: Gaming tribes and their casinos gave $36.6 million in charitable contributions in 2012, generating an estimated $109.2 million in economic output, and supporting an estimated 1,038 jobs statewide. The study also shows that gaming tribes often serve as the most important sources of philanthropic giving in their surrounding communities.
CNIGA will once again be releasing the Beacon Economic report on the impact of tribal gaming in 2015.
“We owe the voters of California – the people who gave us this opportunity for economic development– a report card in return for their support.  Also we are very proud of our record in strengthening our own governments, but also that we are able to contribute to the state’s economy, and participate in the well-being of our neighbors in many rural areas where jobs and many government services did not exist until tribal gaming,” Stallings said.
Looking to the future, Stallings reminded tribes of their accomplishments when presenting a united front and warned that tribes need to stay united and not blinded by their individual successes, all of which were born from a united front.
“I read somewhere the internet is today’s campfire, with a global audience. Traditional campfires served many purposes among Indian people, from a place for gathering to make important decisions, and providing for dialogue to build consensus, to teaching youth, and for entertainment.  Today’s digital campfire does much of the same, but has no censors or built in protections to protect the user from fraud and misinformation.
“As tribes, counting on gaming revenues to fund our government budgets, we cannot let yesterday’s and today’s success make us complacent, but must take risks and prepare for new markets, and changes in the games. The only way we can protect our businesses is to anticipate the future and what gaming will look like 10-20 years from now,” he explained.
“Given how fast technology changes, the digital campfire with its massive audiences, pit falls, and opportunities, is the most immediate challenge facing California tribes.  Finding skill based games that appeal to the younger markets, and diversifying our entertainment venues is one solution.  It has been estimated that California with its population of 30 million offers one of the most lucrative internet gaming markets in the US.  Online Poker, still illegal in the US, has been reported to currently have over ten million players.”
In closing, Stallings pointed to the immediate political challenges that will test the tribes. These include bills to legalize and regulate I-Poker, Daily Fantasy Sports, and sports wagering.  All three, as witnessed by the 9-year stalemate over I-Poker, will require diligence, unity and political comprises among the state’s tribal gaming enterprises and governments.  “I hope, amidst all the potential for profits and politics around internet gaming, that the consumer doesn’t get lost and that we will continue to look to gaming that rewards both the players and the host.
“My personal goal is to revitalize CNIGA.  It’s our historic home base, our tribal campfire, the place we come to stay in tune with our industry, to debate and discuss legal and legislative issues,  and to build consensus and resilience as we look to the future of tribal government gaming,” he concluded.