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Bits and Pieces from Indian Country - June 2004

17 August 2004

The big stories make the headlines. The big casinos steal the spotlight, and while there are lots of big casinos getting bigger, such as Cache Creek, there are dozens of smaller ones struggling along. Here are some stories from the smaller, almost invisible Indian casinos growing a little bit at a time. Even the Cache Creek expansion isn't about two or three thousand rooms, but rather 200 rooms, barely more than a motel in Nevada.

Cache Creek Casino Resort opened a 200-room hotel Thursday, a project that adjoins the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indian's recently expanded casino. Representatives of the Rumsey Indians tout the project as Northern California's first casino resort. The hotel features conference rooms as well as a full-service spa that will open June 14. A swimming pool will open next month. Pamela Martineau, Sacramento Bee, 6-4-04

The Ute Mountain Casino Hotel & Resort opened in Towaoc on Friday, May 28. The project, built by tribal-owned Weeminuche Construction, cost $14 million and took 18 months to complete. The lobby of the Ute Mountain Casino Hotel & Resort in Towaoc connects the hotel to the casino. The pots were designed and made by Ute Mountain Pottery. The new hotel has 90 rooms. The $14 million, 18-month project is finally complete. The Ute Mountain Casino in Towaoc is now the Ute Mountain Casino Hotel & Resort. John R. Crane, Cortez Journal, 6-4-04

The Ho-Chunk Nation's new Whitetail Crossing Casino opened Monday morning near Tomah, after a ribbon-cutting ceremony where some Ho-Chunk officials called it the fulfillment of a dream. The $1.8 million expansion added nearly 7,800 square feet to the nation's Whitetail Crossing convenience store. …The site's 100 slot machines are in a nearly 2,000-square-foot area. Steve Cahalan, La Crosse Tribune, 6-29-04

It has been a long wait, but the Three Rivers Casino in Florence is now ready for wheeling and dealing. The casino opened this past weekend and hundreds of people piled in to play the 265 slot machines and half-dozen black jack tables. The casino is owned by the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians.
KTAU TV, 6-29-04

"We've been in the community there for 24 seasons. It's unfortunate that it's taken so long to do the things we can do to help each other," said Viad Corporation's Joe Fassler, director of Viad's Glacier Park Inc. operation. "Now this is an opportunity to bring guest services to our guests at the East Glacier Lodge." Fassler said while guests have all the opportunities Glacier Park affords the daytime visitor, at night "they mostly listen to speakers like Curly Bear Wagner. This gives them, the ones who want to take part, the opportunity to have some fun and earn some money for the Tribe at the same time." …We already have Class II gaming at Glacier Peaks [Bingo]. …Siyeh Development Corp.'s Dennis Fitzpatrick is set to manage the new venture, which will see the Park Lodge Casino opening for business Friday, June 4, and running through the tourist season. Fitzpatrick estimated the Tribe will have about 3,000 square feet of space in the Feather Room, filled with 30 Rocket Bingo and other Vegas-style machines for the use of anyone at the East Glacier Park Lodge. The new casino will be open seven days a week through September, from 10 a.m. to midnight every day. John McGill, Cut Bank Golden Triangle Glacier Reporter, 6-3-04

When Lake Side Trading Co. opened its Class II gaming facility on Route 89 Wednesday, about a dozen people were waiting at the door. A steady stream of customers dropped in throughout the next 12 hours to play electronic bingo games. …The Cayuga Indian Nation-owned gaming center, which is a separate business from the attached gas station/convenience store that opened last fall, offers 33 electronic games with about a dozen different displays tied to a national bingo network. Denise M. Champagne. Lake Finger Times (New York), 7-1-04

California's new compacts have captured the majority of media attention, but there are other issues if not as important, are very important. The NLRB has ruled that tribes are not exempt from federal labor law. The Supreme Court of California refused to stop the cardroom and racetrack initiative from appearing on the ballot. The NLRB ruling challenges tribal sovereignty and the Supreme Court action puts all Indian casinos in California at risk. Tribes that today are celebrating unlimited slots, could be facing closure in a year from the competition of conventional casinos located closer to the market.

Overruling 30 years of precedent, the National Labor Relations Board has concluded that tribal governments and their enterprises are subject to federal labor law. In a 3-1 decision made public yesterday, the board asserted jurisdiction in a dispute between a California tribe and a labor union. By doing so, the majority reversed long-standing precedent that tribes, as sovereign governments, are outside the scope of the federal National Labor Relations Act. …"As tribal businesses prosper, they become significant employers of non-Indians and serious competitors with non-Indian owned businesses," the decision dated May 28 stated. "When Indian tribes participate in the national economy in commercial enterprises, when they employ substantial numbers of non-Indians, and when their businesses cater to non-Indian clients and customers, the tribes affect interstate commerce in a significant way." "When the Indian tribes act in this manner, the special attributes of their sovereignty are not implicated," the majority concluded. The decision has widespread implications because it reverses a 28-year-old holding that on-reservation tribal enterprises are exempt from the law. Indianz News, 6-4-04

The California Supreme Court has refused for a second time to hear a lawsuit that seeks to remove a gambling initiative backed by cardrooms and racetracks from the November ballot. The decision means it is doubtful that the issues raised in a pair of legal challenges to the measure will be heard before voters pass judgment on it this fall. The lawsuits were filed separately by the Agua Caliente band of Palm Springs and another group of big gambling tribes. A state appellate court earlier refused to hear either challenge. Agua Caliente appealed to the state's high court. "We have to figure out what the tribe wants to do at this point," Agua Caliente attorney Fred Woocher said Thursday. "I know they feel very strongly that it's a waste of everybody's resources and would be very deceptive to the voters." Supporters of the measure that could give 16 cardrooms and tracks 30,000 slot machines applauded the court's move. "It's not a great surprise," said Greg Larsen, a spokesman for the campaign. "We believed all along that the initiative would pass legal scrutiny." San Diego Union-Tribune, 6-3-04.

For all of the excitement of new Compacts, new casinos and increased Indian gaming revenues, there is always the threat of federal intervention, in the form of new legislation, court decisions or federal enforcement. Congress could unilaterally pass a law against Indian gaming as easily as it passed the National Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The attorney general of Connecticut, for example, has been relentless in his pursuit of changes to the federal recognition process and federal Indian gaming legislation, and Connecticut's congressional delegation has joined him in those efforts. And in June the FBI joined those who would "help" regulate Indian gaming. The FBI is making some very strange noises this month. It is difficult to predict what the noises mean, but I doubt that anyone in Indian country is feeling warm and fussy about it.

Defying the odds and the federal Department of Justice, Sherrill on Monday was granted the chance by the U.S. Supreme Court to show why the Oneida Indian Nation should pay property taxes to the city. The court, which hears only about one in every 100 appeals brought before it, announced Monday it would hear arguments in the case. The Sherrill case was among eight the court Monday agreed to hear. Justices rejected 133 cases. …The Sherrill case begin in 2000 when the city tried to foreclose on land the nation had bought in the city. The Oneidas sued, saying the land was part of their reservation carved out in 1794 and could not be taxed. A federal district court judge and the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the Oneidas, ruling that the nation's land was "Indian country" and thus free from taxes. … The Supreme Court ruled for the nation in 1985 in the nation's land claim case, saying the Oneidas had a valid claim to 250,000 acres in Madison and Oneida counties. The court ordered the case back to federal district court to be settled, but it never was. Monday's decision may postpone plans by the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin to build "a world-class entertainment facility" on 250 acres in Vernon. Tribal General Manager Bill Gollnick said the high court's final decision would clarify whether the tribe has to pay taxes or negotiate agreements with local governments, as the tribe does in Wisconsin. Glenn Coin, Syracuse Post Standard, 6-10-04

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is somewhat downplaying a press conference tomorrow in the nation's capitol involving the issue of Indian gaming. According to a news release, the event is to "address Indian Country Crime prevention and the establishment of the Indian Gaming Working Group and the proactive measures in place to investigate this $15 billion gaming problem." An FBI official who did not wish to be identified described it this way: " The revenues from Indian gaming have increased from $100 million in 1989 to $15 billion in 2004. That outpaces gaming operations in both Las Vegas and Atlantic City. We want to get ahead of this before any problems surface." Sam Lewin, Native Times, 6-29-04

Saying the increase in Indian gaming has led to the "potential for organized crime groups to become a corrupting influence and to profit from illegal schemes such as embezzlement, illegal betting, and other gaming scams," the Federal Bureau of Investigation has formed an Indian Gaming Work Group to oversee tribal casinos. They are also asking that anyone with knowledge of wrongdoing on reservations contact them. Sam Lewin, Native Times, 6-30-04

Saying the increase in Indian gaming has led to the "potential for organized crime groups to become a corrupting influence and to profit from illegal schemes such as embezzlement, illegal betting, and other gaming scams," the Federal Bureau of Investigation has formed an Indian Gaming Work Group to oversee tribal casinos. …a host of organizations, including the Department of Interior-Office of the Inspector General, National Indian Gaming Commission, Internal Revenue Services-Tribal Government Section, Department of Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Center, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Law Enforcement Services. "The tribes themselves provide the primary day-to-day due diligence to keep the facilities honest and fair for both players and operators. However, the threat posed by organized crime calls for the involvement of federal agencies to assist tribes in keeping Indian casinos crime free," Sam Lewin, Native Times, 6-30-04

Even existing compacts are not safe. In California the state legislature is approving the latest compacts, while in New York and Wisconsin courts have ruled the compacts invalid because the governors signed without the consent of the legislature. The tribes in Wisconsin are making a good faith payment, even though the compacts, the payments and new games are now hanging in a legal limbo. In New Mexico the final tribe signed the new compact agreeing to the payments, though it violated the tribal sense of sovereignty when one sovereign state can impose a tax on another sovereign state.

The agreement that allowed Turning Stone Casino Resort to open 11 years ago is invalid, state Supreme Court Justice James W. McCarthy has ruled. While Oneida Nation leaders downplayed the ruling's impact, Nation foes and local political leaders rejoiced in what they saw as a significant step toward resolving issues including the land claim and taxation of products sold by American Indian businesses. …McCarthy ruled from Oswego that then-Gov. Mario Cuomo "exceeded his authority" by entering into the 1993 compact with the Oneida nation without legislative approval. What effect, if any, the court decision has on the sprawling casino resort that attracts 4.2 million visitors a year is uncertain. Turning Stone has grown to include a massive casino, three championship golf courses, three luxury hotels, a European spa, a convention center, a cabaret-style showroom and an events arena. "The Nation's compact is valid under federal law," Nation spokesman Jerry Reed said Monday. He said the state Supreme Court had previously declared invalid a similar state compact with the Mohawk Indians for a Northern New York casino, but last week the state Legislature approved the Mohawk deal retroactively. R. Patrick Corbett and Meghan Rubado, Utica Observer-Dispatch, 6-29-04

The Forest County Potawatomi has paid the state $40.5 million under its gaming compact, allowing the tribe to continue offering Las Vegas-style games such as craps, poker and roulette. All the state's 11 tribes thus met their obligations on compact payments to the state by Wednesday's deadline except the Ho-Chunk Nation, which owes $30 million, Wisconsin Administration Secretary Marc Marotta said. Carrie Antlfinger, Associated Press, Duluth Superior News, 7-1-04

Officials from both the state of New Mexico and the Mescalero Apache tribe met this afternoon in Santa Fe sign a new gaming compact agreement. The Mescaleros settled a lengthy gaming compact feud with the state in April when they agreed to pay the state $25 million, and also agreed to sign a gaming compact calling for the tribe to pay to the state 8 percent of the revenue it generates from the casino…A previous Mescalero administration had been at odds with the state over the gaming compacts for a number of years, but that all changed in January when Mark Chino took office as tribal president. Albuquerque Business Journal, 5-31-03

Indian gaming has entered into a new era. Compacts today are intended to expand gaming operations and increase revenues to the states. And while tribes are still responsible for primary regulation, state and federal agencies are trying to take a larger role. In a somewhat poetic ending, Tony Hope, called Son of Hope, died. Hope was the first chairman of the National Indian Gaming Regulatory Commission. He wasn't always popular in Indian country, often times because he took his time organizing the Commission and drafting the original regulations. There are those who would like to see things move a little more slowly today.

Anthony "Tony" Hope, son of the late American entertainer Bob Hope and former head of the US National Indian Gaming Commission, died today, his sister said. He was 63. …His death comes nearly a year after the death of his father, Bob Hope, who was 100 when he died of pneumonia last year….Tony Hope served on two US presidential commissions under Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. …The first President George Bush appointed him chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission, which regulates casinos run by Native Americans. Queensland Courier Mail, 7-1-04

Merging and expanding, new compacts and new legislation, the first half of 2004 has been dynamic for the industry. And while most of news is of growth and expansion, the story in Indian country is often of struggle. This month alone produced four major cases that either went against the tribes involved or may lead to a higher court decision against the tribal interest. Indian gaming is often called unfair by competition, but it also suffers from unfair court and legislative scrutiny. In conventional gaming jurisdictions, once the enabling legislation is passed, the structure is pretty much set except, of course, those states that radically alter the tax rates. But in Indian country, nothing seems totally secure. That makes celebration of the opening of small casinos even more important and meaningful. Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind when Thunder Valley and the other major California Indian casinos have 10 or 20 thousand slot machines and are making more money than Mohegan Sun, Foxwoods, Atlantic City or Las Vegas.

But now, that is simply my opinion, isn't it?

Ken

Ken Adams

Ken Adams is the principal in the gaming consulting firm, Ken Adams and Associates. Formed in 1990, Ken Adams and Associates specializes in information, analysis, and strategic planning for Indian tribes, casino operations and gaming manufacturers.

Ken spent over 20 years in the hotel-casino industry, prior to founding Ken Adams and Associates. He held the positions of: Director of Casino Operations, Casino Manager, and Keno Department Manager. During this time, he developed numerous innovative marketing and customer development programs and systems for evaluating casino performance. Some of those programs, such as slot clubs and tournaments, have become industry standards.

Ken is also actively involved in gathering and disseminating information that is important to the gaming industry. He is editor and publisher of and the Adams' Report, a monthly newsletter specializing in identifying trends in casino gaming, regulation and manufacturing, the Adams Daily Report, an electronic newsletter that provides electronic links to the key gaming stories of the day, and the Adams Review, a special report distributed by Compton Dancer Consulting that provides editorial commentary on gaming trends.
Ken Adams
Ken Adams is the principal in the gaming consulting firm, Ken Adams and Associates. Formed in 1990, Ken Adams and Associates specializes in information, analysis, and strategic planning for Indian tribes, casino operations and gaming manufacturers.

Ken spent over 20 years in the hotel-casino industry, prior to founding Ken Adams and Associates. He held the positions of: Director of Casino Operations, Casino Manager, and Keno Department Manager. During this time, he developed numerous innovative marketing and customer development programs and systems for evaluating casino performance. Some of those programs, such as slot clubs and tournaments, have become industry standards.

Ken is also actively involved in gathering and disseminating information that is important to the gaming industry. He is editor and publisher of and the Adams' Report, a monthly newsletter specializing in identifying trends in casino gaming, regulation and manufacturing, the Adams Daily Report, an electronic newsletter that provides electronic links to the key gaming stories of the day, and the Adams Review, a special report distributed by Compton Dancer Consulting that provides editorial commentary on gaming trends.