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TIM GIAGO Moral values, gambling industry about to clash



Published: Wed, February 2, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



When Texas closed the Indian casino near El Paso, it opened an opportunity for other tribes to construct casinos near the city.

Three tribes began an assessment of communities bordering El Paso and settled on the town of Anthony, N.M. The tribes, Jemez Pueblo, Picuris Pueblo and the Fort Sill Apache are now involved in the legal process of getting the official permission to construct casinos far from their reservations in an off-reservation community.

New Mexico is unique in that there are 22 Indian tribes in the state and the very number of tribes could lead to gaming saturation. The To'hajiilee Chapter of the Navajo Nation, located west of Albuquerque, has broken from the rest of the Navajo Nation and is attempting to build its own casino although the Navajo people have voted twice to deny its tribe the opportunity to build casinos on the Navajo Nation.

New Mexico is also unique in that it has horse racing tracks called "Racinos" that offer the gambler the chance to put his money on the nose of a horse or to play the slot machines now available at the race tracks.

The Albuquerque Journal did an eight-part series on the gaming situation in New Mexico. They looked at the opportunities and at the downside of gaming. On the upside Indian gaming alone has brought nearly 12,000 jobs to the state. These new employees pay taxes on their wages and purchase goods in New Mexico's towns and cities. This contributes to economic growth.

The state government also profits from the casinos to the tune of nearly $80 million per year based on the 8 percent of the gross slot machine revenues from the slot machines in the Indian casinos. In the Journal article Sandia Pueblo Gov. Stuwart Paisano said, "We have to move away from relying on gaming revenues. There is too much uncertainty. The compacts expire in 2014 but we expect an increase in off-reservation gaming before that."

State-sanctioned casinos

In South Dakota legalized casinos can be found in nearly every community. These state-sanctioned casinos take away considerable profits from the Indian casinos. That is especially true in Western South Dakota where the Indian casinos are located at fairly remote locations.

It boggles the mind to recall that not too many years ago gambling was considered a crime and nearly all gambling establishments, with the exception of those in New Jersey and Nevada, were operated by crime syndicates. It makes one wonder if there are still people in prison for violating the gambling laws of the early 1980s. Or were they all released after the fact when gambling came into vogue?

In every state with large gaming interests there are those individuals who are emphatically opposed to gambling. They lobby the state legislatures and they try to get anti-gaming measures on state election petitions every year. For the most part their efforts always fail.

They fail because many elected officials now draw a considerable amount of money for their re-election campaigns from gaming interests. But more than that, state governments have become addicted to the increased revenues they enjoy from the gambling industry. In some cases states have been able to lower the taxes on real estate thus making gaming even more acceptable to the average homeowner.

When lawmakers saw that the only way to save horse racing was to allow the tracks to offer slot machine gambling, they did so in direct competition to the Indian casinos. They saw what happened to the greyhound racing industry. For instance, the very popular dog track in Rapid City, S.D., went belly up after gaming casinos were introduced in the state.

Navajo leaders were dismayed to see one of their chapters break from their decades-old efforts to prevent the tribe from entering into the gambling surge in Indian country. It opens the possibility of other chapters also going their own independent way, and it shatters the myth of unity so long enjoyed by the Navajo Nation.

And although several of the Indian pueblos in New Mexico have cashed in on the casino rage, there are still a couple of the pueblos that have not jumped into the gambling foray. In Arizona where several of the tribes have become extremely wealthy with their gaudy casinos, the Hopi Nation has refused to join the parade and probably never will. The Hopi are a deeply religious people and see gaming as an affront to their culture, spirituality and traditions.

Moral values

When all is said and done we must consider the issue of moral values as spelled out by the George W. Bush victory in the past elections. Bush was against Indian gaming in Texas and is probably still against it as president of the United States. There are forces gathering on the horizon that are diametrically opposed to gambling of any nature.

The Indian nations of America would be fools not to realize that these forces pose a threat to their casinos, and -- mark my words -- these forces will come to the forefront over the next four years.

Indian nations should be aware that what the federal government has given, the federal government can take away. The pressure exerted upon it moves the government and the pressure against gambling in America is about to grow fearsome.

X Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the former editor and publisher of Lakota Media Inc. He is the winner of the H.L. Mencken Award and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.




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