INDIAN GAMING: Casino tribes took in $18.5 billion

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Indian gaming generated $18.5 billion in gross revenues in 2004, almost double the amount produced by Nevada casinos and the trend is expected to continue indefinitely, according to tribal and Nevada officials.

A 10 percent increase extended more than a decade of double-digit growth for tribal gambling which has boomed since Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.

Gambling revenue for major Nevada resorts totaled $9.88 billion in fiscal 2004.

Mark Van Norman, executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association, projected the 10 percent growth trend will continue.

“Who could have thought 15 years ago that Indian gaming would generate more revenue than is spent by the federal government through the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) and IHS (Indian Health Service)?” Van Norman said during a news conference at the National Press Club.

Indian gambling, combined with tribal hospitality, restaurant and entertainment services, produced $21 billion last year compared to $19.59 billion for Nevada.

Van Norman noted net revenues were about $6 billion less than the gross sum due to wages, salaries, Social Security taxes and benefits.

There are 411 Indian casinos across the country, operated by 223 tribes in 28 states.

Ernie Stevens Jr., chairman of the Indian group, said tribal members spent $228 million last year to regulate gambling operations. Tribes also paid states $58 million, and $11 million to the National Indian Gaming Commission for additional regulation.

“We take our poker online uang asli regulation very seriously in Indian country, and we see it as the cost of doing business,” Stevens said.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada is not convinced.

“I’ve always said that I thought the regulation was lax with Indian gaming, and I still say that,” said Reid, a former chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. “I think there should be more oversight because I don’t think it’s controlled well.”

Even though he is no longer a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Reid may have more power as Democratic leader to block Indian gambling expansion.

But Van Norman said he is not concerned.

“Senator Reid has a good history of working with tribes in Nevada,” Van Norman said. “If we can educate him on how far we have come … he might take some of that in perspective.”

Van Norman added Gov. Kenny Guinn, R-Nev., has said Indian gambling provided competition which has made Las Vegas casinos better.

“It actually has enhanced the Strip, and a lot of the financing for Indian casinos is done in Las Vegas,” said Guinn spokesman Greg Bortolin.

But Bortolin and Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said that gambling properties in Reno and Laughlin have suffered as the result of tribal casinos nearby.

“Indian gaming has been very harmful to a lot of gambling operations on our border, and Las Vegas had to reinvent itself because of (tribal gambling),” Ensign said.

Nevertheless, Ensign said he expects Indian gambling revenues will continue to soar because Congress is unlikely to intervene.

“You can’t, whether there’s a need or whatever,” Ensign said. “We don’t have the votes for it. Not even close.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.