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Bits & Pieces from Indian Country - September 2007

15 October 2007

The last major tribe to get into gaming is slowly moving forward. The Navajo Nation has the largest enrollment of any tribe in the United States and the most territory (about the same size as the state of West Virginia), located in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Nearly 20 years after the National Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, the nation's largest tribe is getting closer to opening a casino.

With land in three states, there are several issues bearing on which state and which chapter (the smallest political unit and location) will host the first casino. The Navajo have gaming compacts with both Arizona and New Mexico, so the choice is an internal one and not based on outside forces. It appears from the outside that the decision was pretty much up to the tribe's president, Joe Shirley, Jr. That choice seems to have been made and things are moving forward. The tribe hired a person to oversee the development of gaming, is forming a regulatory commission, and as of the end of August, had funding for the first gaming projects. Some say the Navajo waited too long and lack good access to major population centers, but President Shirley and JP Morgan Chase are optimistic.

Shirley said studies have indicated the tribe could be looking at as much as $100 million in annual profits once all six planned casinos are up and running. For the first time, the tribe has set a firm timeframe of 240 days to open its first casino – to be located along Interstate 40 at the Church Rock, N.M., interchange. Shirley said once that is operating, he would like to see one or two new casinos open each year until all six are in operation. (Bill Donovan/ Annie Greenberg, Navajo Times, 8-07)

Economic Development Committee approved legislation Wednesday which would authorize the Navajo Nation to commit to a $100 million loan from JP Morgan Chase to establish gaming on the reservation. The legislation must be approved by the Navajo Nation Council. Derrick Watchman of JP Morgan Chase told the committee that, a couple years ago, the Office of the Controller issued a request for proposals, looking for banks to submit qualifications and experiences for financing Navajo Nation projects, in particular gaming. "After a rigorous RFP process, the Controller's Office selected my bank, JP Morgan Chase. So with that, we've been working with the gaming team and putting together a term sheet ... that pretty much we're all agreeable to," Watchman said. (Kathy Helms, Gallup Independent, 8-30-07)

The Navajo have taken twenty years to get into gaming because it was a sensitive political issue within the tribe. The Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, also known as the Gun Lake Tribe, has taken a very long time to move into gaming as well, but not because it chose to wait. The Tribe has been held up by lawsuits, state politics and other forces outside the tribe's control. However, that may be passing, at least after the last appeals court review in October. After that the Tribe only has to deal with all of the factors that any operation faces – financing, building, opening, and operating.

The Michigan House voted 63-41 on Wednesday to approve a Class III gaming compact with the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, also known as the Gun Lake Tribe. The compact calls for the tribe to share between 8-10 percent of slot machine revenues. The local government will also receive a cut of revenues. (Indianz News, 8-3-07)

The U.S. Appeals Court in Washington, D.C., has set an Oct. 19 hearing in a case many expect will be an unsuccessful last-ditch effort to halt a proposed Allegan County casino. Michigan Gambling Opposition is suing the U.S. Department of Interior to stop its move to take 147 acres in Wayland Township into trust for the Gun Lake Band of Pottawatomi Indians…Earlier this year, a U.S. District Court judge in Washington sided with the government. However, he issued a stay preventing the land from being taken into trust pending the outcome of MichGO's appeal. Based on the appellate court's track record, MichGO's odds don't look good. Two of the judges on the three-judge appellate panel, Douglas Ginsburg and Judith Rogers, have sided with the government and tribal interests in two other Michigan cases dealing with similar issues. The third, Janice Rogers Brown, was not involved in those cases. (Chris Knape, Grand Rapids Press, 8-30-07)

Another common reason for tribes to wait before entering the gaming business is federal recognition, without which a tribe is not eligible to operate gaming under the NIGRA. In Massachusetts, a newly recognized tribe is very much part of the changing attitudes towards casinos and gaming. The federal recognition of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has led to a rush of interest in bringing casino gaming to Massachusetts; several towns approached the tribe with offers to host the tribe's casino subsequent to recognition and subject to a compact with the state. That recognition has led to others, including the Mohegan tribe of Connecticut, to look for opportunities in Massachusetts. The Mohegan or any other tribe not native to Massachusetts would not be allowed to operate under the NIGRA, but that isn't an issue for the tribe. The tribe is flush with cash from Connecticut and it wants to make up for the revenue it will lose to whoever operates in Massachusetts, except of course if that operator is the tribe.

The operators of the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut are looking at spending about $1 billion on a new gambling resort in Palmer that could include up to 4,000 slot machines, a 600-room hotel and a giant retail center, according to town and Mohegan tribe officials. Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum, chairman of the Mohegan Tribe, said yesterday that the Mohegans realize any gaming resort in Palmer would cost in the vicinity of $1 billion. He touted the creation of possibly thousands of construction and resort jobs. In a statement, he said a major gaming, hotel, restaurant and retail resort would employ as many as 5,000 people permanently in the region…The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority last month signed an exclusive development deal with Northeast Realty and Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, a developer of retail, housing and office projects, to explore building a casino resort on about 150 acres of land just off the Mass Pike. (Jay Fitzgerald, Boston Herald, 8-30-07)

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has taken another step on the road to building a casino in Massachusetts by filing a petition with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to put their land in trust. The petition filed at the BIA's eastern offices in Nashville, Tenn., by tribal council chairman Shawn Hendricks would place more than 500 acres of land in Middleborough and 140 acres in Mashpee into a trust. (Associated Press, 8-30-07)

If the Navajo, Gun Lake Pottawatomi, and Mashpee Wampanoag represent the last tribes to enter gaming, the Tulalip tribe of Washington represents the opposite – one of the first tribes. The Tulalips were the first tribe in Washington to sign a compact with the state and open a casino. They were already operating a very successful bingo hall in 1990 when they began the process of negotiating a compact and opening a casino in 1992. Now, 15 years later, the tribe has opened a much larger casino and a village that has a very large and successful mall. Now the tribe is preparing to open more related and non-related businesses. The Tulalips illustrate an important fact and one of the basic justifications written into the original act – gaming was intended to be an economic catalyst – not an end itself.

The Tulalip Tribes long have anticipated the new international destination resort being built at Quil Ceda Village. The Tulalip Casino became a highly successful gamble for the tribes, but they always knew the casino alone wasn't enough to support Quil Ceda Village on its own, even with its 2,000 gaming machines, 50 table games, a Championship Poker room and live music and comedy in the Canoes Cabaret. Adding the 100-store Seattle Premium Outlets mall at the north end of the village helped, too, as well as bringing celebrity entertainers to the 2,400-seat outdoor amphitheater. But those weren't enough of a boost to create the kind of major attraction the tribes needed. Next June, all of that will change. After two years of construction, the $130 million, 12-story, 363-room multi-star luxury hotel, spa and convention center will put the final piece in place for that international resort when its doors swing open. For the soft opening in early June, at least one floor of rooms will be open, with 200 rooms ready by the end of June… Plus, the tribes expect to add 50 to 100 more outlet stores to the highly successful collection of prime brands at the present mall, create a major RV park and eventually add a major new entertainment attraction…Also, a part of the new resort facility will include the Tulalip Tribes' long-awaited tribal cultural center, which is expected to be a major tourist attraction on its own. (John Wolcott, Snohomish County Business Journal, 8-30-07)

The success of Tulalip and many other tribes in reducing unemployment, providing social services, developing businesses outside of casinos, and providing additional financial supplements to tribal members, demonstrates the foresight of the act and the integrity of the tribal administration. A constant mantra of Tulalip's government – and many other tribes – is the seventh generation. It is their responsibility to leave their descendants of the seventh generation the means to sustain the tribe and its culture.

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

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.