Casinos Grow as Tribes Diversify

But gaming remains king.
Julia Anderson |   April 2012   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and president of the Washington Indian Gaming Association, at the 7 Cedars Casino in Sequim.

operations employ 7,829, for a total of 27,376 jobs representing $1.3 billion in wages and benefits. That’s a 56 percent increase in tribal-related employment since 2004. Sixty-six percent of those jobs were held by non-Indians.

Taylor also calculated that in 2010, the tribes purchased $2.4 billion in goods and services, with most of that business occurring outside the reservations. Those purchases generated $255 million in state sales tax revenue. Construction activity worth $270 million in 2010 produced $12 million in taxes.

“We’re proud of the contribution we are making on our reservations and to Washington’s overall economy,” says Allen. “We have a long way to go in Indian country, but we are making progress.”

The threat of new taxation isn’t the only challenge Washington’s Indian casino businesses face. Tribal casino operators worry that if federal legislation allows internet gambling, this competition would deal a severe blow to tribal revenues. They also worry that Washington state could allow slot machines in Washington card rooms as a means of generating more tax revenue from gambling. Indian casino operators say such a move would only divide existing gambling dollars among more operators.

State Representative Gary Alexander, a Republican from Olympia and the ranking minority member of the House Ways & Means Committee, sees the expansion of video slot machines into nontribal casinos as a reasonable way to broaden the state’s tax revenue base. “Video slots in card rooms is a good idea because it would create more jobs in nontribal casinos, especially in rural areas, and it would generate an estimated $400 million in tax revenue for K-12 education over the next biennium,” Alexander says. “When we’re looking for new revenue, this option is worth considering if the alternative is increasing the statewide sales tax.”

Rick Day, director of the Washington State Gambling Commission, says that in 2011, gambling operations from all sources, including the state lottery, horse racing, bingo, raffles, card rooms and tribal casinos, generated $2.51 billion in net receipts. Indian gaming represented 78 percent of that total, up from 72 percent in 2009.

“We expect to see a continuing strain between federal and state law in terms of tribal and nontribal gambling,” notes Day. “How that develops could be dramatic.” He adds that any federal law allowing online gambling would hurt the entire industry in the state, not just Indian gaming.

Christine Masse, a Seattle-based attorney with Miller Nash LLP who has worked for several Washington Indian

    Subscribe Free     Free Insight Newsletter