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Best of Ken Adams

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November's bits and pieces from Indian Country

30 November 2006

Nothing significant has happened in Washington as the members of the House and Congress, the President and his cabinet and everyone else with a cause and pulpit spent October campaigning. That does not mean they won't return and return to making laws that will impact Indian gaming.

Efforts to restrict the $23 billion tribal gaming industry may resurface when Congress returns to work after the November elections, Indian advocates said last week. Key lawmakers in the House and Senate have introduced measures to limit the acquisition of land for casinos. Former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado) called the proposals an attack on tribal rights. "Whether you're a large land-based tribe or a small one, it's an affront to sovereignty," Campbell said last week during the National Congress of American Indians annual conference in Sacramento. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, is sponsoring S.2078, a major overhaul of the tribal gaming industry. The highly controversial measure is subject to a dozen holds by senators on all sides of the issue. "It looks like that bill will not pass this year," said Campbell, who was chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee before he retired in 2004. Indianz News, 10-10-06

Still Indian gaming continues to evolve, each jurisdiction in its own unique ways. Here are a couple of stories that in a way are typical of the entire history of Indian gaming. The first one is from Cache Creek Casino in northern California. The tribe is closing its bingo parlor, the very place that gave the tribe its start in gaming over 20 years ago. Bingo isn't being closed because it is no longer popular or profitable, but because slot machines and poker are more popular and more profitable and the tribe needs the space to expand.

The game that started Cache Creek Casino on the path to success is coming to an end. With humble beginnings as a 1,250-seat bingo parlor in 1985, the casino now boasts a 74,772 square-foot gaming area and now holds 2,600 slot machines and more than 100 table games. You can still yell "Bingo!" at Cache Creek Casino, but it won't make much sense after Oct. 31; the casino will get rid of the bingo parlor and events hall at the end of the month to make room for hundreds more slot machines and poker tables. Spokeswoman for the casino Wendy Waldorf called the move away from bingo "inevitable." The 20,000-square-foot bingo hall will close at the end of the month and remodeling will begin Nov. 5 to replace the old tables with about 520 slot machines and more than 30 new poker tables…Other plans in the future of the casino include an 18-hole championship golf course, complete with a pro shop, club house, driving range and practice putting area that is slated to open in 2007. Josh Fernandez, Woodland Democrat, 10-24-06

The second story is not quite so heart warming, but it does give a glimpse into why you often hear how tribes have to be very careful when choosing anyone to "help" them get started in the casino business. The Snoqualmie Tribe of Washington had an agreement with an Arizona company to jointly open a casino near Seattle. The deal fell apart for undisclosed reasons, so the tribe bought the land the company had originally purchased for the tribe for the purpose of placing it in trust to use for a casino. The problem lies not in the failed negotiations, but rather in the price; the land purchased for $3.8 million just three years ago was sold to the tribe for $50.8 million. Call me naïve, but 13 times the original price seems a bit excessive in my mind.

The land purchase ends months of uncertainty after tribal officials say MGU unexpectedly dropped out of the deal to help build the 170,000-square-foot casino, which would be the closest tribal-gaming center to Seattle. The Snoqualmie Tribe now owns the land on which it plans to build a casino — but at a price that tribal officials called a "tough pill to swallow." The Snoqualmie Tribe paid $50.8 million last week to purchase a vacant 56-acre lot near North Bend from its former partner, MGU Development LLC, according to documents from the King County Recorder's Office. MGU bought the property in 2003 for $3.8 million. Sonia Krishnan, Seattle Times, 10-24-06

And then, from Michigan, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians are in the process of building a $400 million casino – it is expected to open in June of 2007. That is about 5 or 6 years later than it should have opened. Good lobbying and some well spent attorneys' fees have kept the tribe from opening its casino. Just how much did that cost the tribe?

"Watch out, Blue Chip!' So said Tim Cope, president of Minneapolis-based Lakes Entertainment, moments before the last steel beam was hoisted into place Tuesday at the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians' $400 million Four Winds Casino Resort development near New Buffalo. Cope's comment was aimed at the nearby Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, a competitor that many tribal members and Four Winds Casino officials claim supported efforts by New Buffalo-based Taxpayers of Michigan Against Casinos to delay the tribe's gaming enterprise …Tribal Chairman John Miller said the casino resort project, begun in June, is "right on schedule." He's anticipating a grand opening in 9½ months, on Aug. 7. Lou Mumford, South Bend Tribune, 10-25-06

Last year, when Oklahoma approved compacts for Class III slot machines with the state sharing in the revenue from all Class III activities, state officials started immediately to calculate the revenue for the state and to put that money into the state budget. But the state officials did not consult with the tribes; the tribes had been very successfully operating Class II games and were not in any hurry to cut the state into the action. On October 24th, 2006, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation opened the state's first casino with all Class III slots. The process of converting the rest of the state's Class II games to Class III is ongoing, but at the tribes' pace, not the state's.

The Citizen Potawatomi Nation officials say FireLake Grand Casino officially opened its doors today as the only casino in Oklahoma with all Las Vegas-style games and slot machines. The casino features more than 1800 gaming machines and table games like Blackjack, Poker, Craps and Ultimate Texas Hold 'Em. Tribal officials say all slots and table games are Class 3, Oklahoma-compacted games, which means 6 percent of all gaming revenue goes directly toward the Oklahoma education fund. Associated Press, KTEN News, 10-24-06

In Florida, it seems the federal government is going to break the stalemate over Class III games. The Seminole Tribe has been trying since the early 1990s to get a compact with the State of Florida. The tribe tried to sue the state but was told by the United States Supreme Court that the State of Florida had sovereign immunity and was protected by the constitution from the suit. That decision in effect took the teeth from the National Indian Regulatory Act by eliminating any but federal intervention options for a tribe faced with a state government that refused to "negotiate in good faith." Well over ten years later it would appear the federal government is going to intervene and allow the Seminoles to operate Class III; and unlike the long-time-coming compacts in Oklahoma, this one will not come with a rich revenue sharing agreement. So far, no time frame for the introduction of the Class III games is known. But, just as the case with the Potawatomi in Michigan, one is obligated to ask just how much revenue was lost to the Seminoles because of the state's stalling tactics?

In a Sept. 26 letter to the Seminoles, the Interior Department encouraged the Seminoles and the state to reach an agreement over the tribe's gaming rights. But if that doesn't happen within 60 days of the letter, the federal government is ready to "issue a final decision setting forth the proposed Class III gaming procedures for the Tribe." The Seminole Tribe of Florida would have Las Vegas-style slot machines under proposed federal guidelines that could be issued next month, a development that boosts their push to get the same lucrative gambling devices as Broward County pari-mutuels. The U.S. Department of Interior's decision to issue the regulations follows the tribe's failed negotiation attempts with the state to get traditional slot machines. Jon Burstein, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 10-24-06

Indian gaming in Florida appears to be on the edge of dramatic change; the November elections should help, not just in Florida, but also in California. Both states will have governors that favor gaming and will likely be working to sign and get approved new compacts. Congress will be back and there will be some new personalities, and without an upcoming election, a lobbyist scandal (although federal prosecutors are still trying to keep Abramoff out of jail so he can help them find others tainted by his activities) and other short-term political pressure, Congress may act more rationally toward gaming in general and Indian gaming in particular. At least we can hope, can't we?

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.