Tribal gaming revenues are well used for government, human and charitable services
In this state budget crisis, some have suggested the tribes share their gaming revenues with the state. But guest columnist W. Ron Allen, chairman of the Washington Indian Gaming Commission, argues that the tribes put the money to good use in shoring up communities throughout the state.
Special to The Times
IT'S probably just a sign of our desperate economic times, but it is still a head-scratcher to hear some elected officials calling on a group of the state's most impoverished people to help bail out state government.
There is an increasingly popular perception that Washington's Indian tribes are rich, flush with ever-flowing cash from their casinos, and that it's all tax-free. The Seattle Times and others have suggested the tribes share some of that revenue with the state ["State budget crisis demands political courage," editorial, Opinion, Nov. 27].
The perceptions are false. Many of Washington's tribal members live on reservations or nearby in communities in the state's most remote areas, far from employment and educational opportunities. They lack access to basic services like good health care, housing, transportation and telecommunications.
Today, nearly 25 years after Congress affirmed the right of tribes to operate gaming to fund government programs, we are starting to see the economic gap, between Native Americans and the general population, begin to close. But the tribes have a long, long way to go to address our community needs.
A number of tribal governments in Washington are now successfully operating casinos that are generating revenue to fund their community and social programs.
Every dollar earned from tribal gaming is invested in public purposes — to improve peoples' lives, Indian and non-Indian alike, in communities throughout Washington.
Gaming profit is tax revenue for tribal governments. It's the only meaningful revenue we have to finance our governmental programs. We use the money to pay our debt obligations, to fund operations and to create new opportunities beyond casinos. We're investing in recreation, entertainment, hospitality, retail, construction, manufacturing and other industries. We want to bring jobs to rural communities for our members and our neighbors.
In several rural counties, tribes are now the major employer and largest charitable contributor.
Tribal governments pay for housing, health-care clinics, public safety and fire/emergency care services, schools and transportation programs. We are spending money to improve and restore natural resources and the environment.
Tribal enterprises are generating millions of dollars in taxes for local and state governments. All employees at tribal enterprises, including casinos, are subject to federal income taxes. Likewise, vendors and contractors who do business with tribal enterprises pay taxes.
Tribes are generous in their communities. In 2009, tribes gave more than $14 million to local governments and to charitable organizations, and that amount continues to grow today. Several tribes have made substantial gifts to local school districts and government agencies to make up for budget shortfalls in the past year.
The right of tribes to conduct gaming is derived from Congress, not the state. Congress was very intentional when it enacted the Indian Gaming and Regulatory Act (IGRA) in 1988. IGRA was to "provide a statutory basis for the operation of gaming by Indian tribes as a means of promoting tribal economic development, self-sufficiency, and strong tribal governments."
Congress specifically limited the right of states to tap into tribal gaming revenue. States cannot, according to IGRA, condition approval of tribal gaming agreements on getting a share of the revenue. Proposed state-tribal agreements for revenue sharing have to be approved by the U.S. secretary of interior and must demonstrate the tribe is getting something in return.
But Congress' intentions notwithstanding, the most important thing to know about tribal gaming is that all our "profit" is going to public purposes — to create jobs and to help people here in Washington. The social and public-safety services and education programs we offer in our communities relieve Washington state of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer expense.
As this terrible economic recession drags on, there is so much human need in Washington and we in Indian Country see more than our share of it. As tribal government leaders, we pledged to continue working with local and state officials to address our state's economic and social/community needs.W. Ron Allen is chairman of the Washington Indian Gaming Association and Chairman/CEO, Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe
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