Hitting the Jackpot or Breaking the Bank?


  • William J. Roeder Academic Director at Park University, Mountain Home Air Force Base Idaho
  • Aimee L. Franklin Presidential Professor and Drector of Pograms in Public Administration Political Science Department University of Oklahoma


Native American tribal gaming started in the 1970’s when anumber of Tribes established bingo parlors to raise revenues. Today, tribalgaming has grown into casinos that mimic the best of Las Vegas. Also growing is the number of stakeholders active in this policy arena. This paper traces keyevents and primary stakeholders to analyze the types of wins and losses experienced by each in gaming expansion and to answer the question posed in thetitle. We conclude that there have been wins and losses in five categories:financial, social, legal, regulatory, and political. By far the most wins were financial, but it is difficult to determine if these wins compensate for thefinancial and non-monetary losses.

Relations between Indian Tribes and governments in the United States have,historically, been complicated and controversial. The sovereign status of Native American tribal governments means that the treatment of tribal members,their lands, funds and interests is different from that of other U.S. citizensand these differences are becoming more pronounced over time (Light and Rand,2005). Tribal members have the power to self-govern form a government, todecide their own membership, to regulate property, to maintain law and order,to regulate commerce, and so on. The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed thesovereign status of Tribes, including “the power of regulating theirinternal and social relations" (New Mexico v. Mescalero Apache Tribe) and the authority “to make their own substantive law in internal matters and toenforce that law in their own forums" (Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez). This is what gives tribal government the right to engage in gaming and economicdevelopment activity on tribal lands (California v. Cabazon Band of Indians)although this was weakened somewhat by the Supreme Court decision (SeminoleTribe of Florida v. Florida) upholding states’ immunity from suitscharging them with failing to negotiate compacts in good faith.

The introduction of gaming activities challenged Tribes who did not haveexperience operating these types of ventures. It also presented challenges interms of the distribution of gaming revenues. Based on legal interpretations oftheir sovereign status, tribal activities do not typically fall under federal, state, or local government purview, even though they may occur within thegeographic jurisdiction of these governments. This special status of tribal activities created a challenge for intergovernmental relations when Indiangaming facilities were established. Other stakeholders beyond government organizations became active in this policy area including businesses,investors, and citizens residing on or near tribal lands. The challenges facedby all these different stakeholders have grown in magnitude alongside theexpansion in gaming activities since the early 1970’s.

To better understand how gaming expansion changed the lives of tribal andnon-tribal stakeholders, suggest an analytic framework for understanding theever expanding relationships between active stakeholders in this policy arena. The second section describes key events in tribal gaming by identifying stakeholders and the nature of their relationships and transactions . The third section analyzes the financial, social, legal, regulatory, and politicalmotives of stakeholder as their interactions become increasingly complex. In the concluding section we suggest that, overall, gaming expansion has had morewins than losses, especially in the financial category. Different from priorwork that tends to limit analysis to primarily the economic, or legal, orsocietal effects of gaming, this paper simultaneously considers five different types of wins and losses to urge a more comprehensive understanding of thisimportant phenomenon. Thus, our purpose is to organize the stakeholders andtheir interests to frame the issue for exploring future research directions andto encourage thoughtful policymaking that addresses issues in all fivecategories.

Author Biographies

William J. Roeder, Academic Director at Park University, Mountain Home Air Force Base Idaho

Aimee L. Franklin, Presidential Professor and Drector of Pograms in Public Administration Political Science Department University of Oklahoma