Myths & Facts

Gaming Myths & Facts

MYTH: The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) created tribal government gaming.

FACT: Gaming is a right of American Indian nations.

Gaming is one of the oldest forms of recreation. Indian gaming existed long before Europeans settled in America. Not only did Europeans bring new games to the New World, but Native Americans had traditional games still played today, such as the Kumeyaay game of Peõn. Large-scale tribal government gaming, mainly in the form of Bingo, predated the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) by about 10 years. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the right of American Indian tribal governments to run gaming, ruling that states had no Constitutional authority to prohibit or regulate gaming on Indian land if such gaming is permitted outside the reservation for any other purpose (California v. Cabazon). Congress confirmed the statutory basis for this Constitutional right when it passed IGRA in 1988.

On September 10, 1999, fifty-eight (58) tribal governments signed tribal-state compacts with Governor Gray Davis. The compacts were signed by Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and printed in the Federal Register on May 16, 2000. Since September of 1999, eight additional tribes have signed tribal-state gaming compacts, bringing the total number of compacts in California to 66.

For the first time in United States history, the compacts negotiated between the California tribal governments and the state of California included a provision for revenue sharing with non-gaming tribes. Annual payments from gaming tribes to non-gaming tribes and those with fewer than 350 slot machines are expected to eventually reach $1 million per year, per tribe. From the first distribution on July 1, 2000 through December 31, 2004, a total of $132 million have been distributed to tribes without gaming compacts with the state.

MYTH: Indian gaming is commercial, for-profit gaming.

FACT: Gaming on Indian reservations is operated by tribes to fund governmental programs.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) requires all revenues from tribal gaming operations to be used solely for governmental or charitable purposes. Much like state governments and the use of funds from 37 state lotteries and the District of Columbia, tribal governments determine how gaming proceeds are to be spent, pursuant to IGRA. Indian tribes are using gaming revenues to build houses, schools, roads, and sewer and water systems; fund the health care and education of their people; and develop a strong, diverse economic base for future generations.

MYTH: Better economic development alternatives to gaming are available to tribes.

FACT: Indian gaming is the first and only economic tool that has ever worked on a majority of reservations.

Many reservations are in remote, inconvenient locations on land that nobody else wanted. Before tribal gaming, there had been little successful public or private sector economic development on reservations. The federal government has not been successful in economic development on reservations. The states have not proposed any specific or credible alternatives to Indian gaming as a meaningful source of tribal revenues and jobs. However, tribal governments are using the gaming proceeds to diversify their economies by entering into other enterprises.

MYTH: Tribal government gaming is an unregulated magnet for organized crime.

FACT: Tribal government gaming is more heavily regulated than commercial gaming.

The tribes, as governments, are the first to be vigilant in protecting the integrity of business enterprises upon which they depend to feed, clothe, educate, employ their people, provide improvements to their reservations, and operate their governments. Tribal governmental gaming is regulated on three separate and distinct levels, in contrast to the single level of commercial gaming. The first level of regulation comes from the tribes themselves. With the establishment of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), tribes are required to establish a regulatory body (tribal regulators and commissions) to keep operations in compliance with their ordinances and state compacts. The second level in California is conducted by the state Department of Justice and the state Gambling Control Commission, pursuant to regulations negotiated in the tribal-state gaming compact. The third level is the federal National Indian Gaming Commission, which became operable in February 1993 to oversee the regulation of Indian Gaming. Other oversight entities include the Federal Government; the Department of Justice, FBI, and Bureau of Indian Affairs.

During 2006, the Viejas Government spent $4 million dollars to operate its Gaming Commission and Casino Surveillance Department. Another $6 million was budgeted that year by the casino to operate its security programs and personnel.

MYTH: American Indians do not pay taxes.

FACT: American Indians are American taxpayers, and pay all taxes required by state and federal law.

All American Indians pay Federal Income, FICA, and Social Security taxes. Most Indians also pay state income and property taxes. Only a small percentage of Indians who live and work on their own federally recognized reservations—similar to soldiers and their families living on military bases—are exempt from paying state income and property taxes. Indians still pay Federal Income Tax and most sales taxes. Tribal members living off of reservations are required to pay all federal, state and local taxes.

Indian tribes are governments with responsibilities to their citizens, but tribes often lack an economic base to levy taxes to fund the needs of their people. Some tribes have found gaming as a means to generate revenues to operate their governments, provide jobs and economic activity on their reservations. As sovereign governments, tribes do not, like states and municipalities, pay taxes on their revenues to any other governments. Yet there are continuing attempts by misguided federal lawmakers to impose taxes upon tribal government gaming revenues, a practice that probably would be declared unconstitutional.

MYTH: The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) has not worked, and cannot work.

FACT: Tribal government gaming is providing substantial economic benefits in states where IGRA has been given a chance to work.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) is working to the benefit of Indians and non-Indians alike in the 28 states that have tribal gaming. Reservations, such as Viejas, are slowly recovering from decades of failed government programs and building new houses, community centers, roads and much more. Indians and non-Indians are proudly leaving welfare rolls and getting on payrolls. On the Viejas Reservation, no one is on welfare. The casino provides employment for approximately 25 percent of tribal members, as well as 2,300 jobs for non-Indians who live in San Diego County. They are taxpayers instead of tax burdens. As a result, the local and state governments are enjoying increased tax revenues from non-reservation employees and local businesses servicing the tribal enterprises.

MYTH: Tribal government gaming drains resources and tax dollars from surrounding non-Indian governments and communities.

FACT: Tribal government gaming creates additional resources and tax dollars for surrounding non-Indian governments and communities.

Indian gaming is now a $17 billion industry. Indian gaming creates jobs, increases economic activity, and generates tax revenue both on and off the reservation. Tribal governments like Viejas are using the gaming proceeds to diversify their economies by investing in other businesses, leading to lasting self-sufficiency.

MYTH: Tribal government gaming has little public support among non-Indians.

FACT: Californians and San Diegans support tribal government gaming by overwhelming margins.

IA majority of Americans support Indian gaming. Public opinion surveys both nationally and within various states conclusively demonstrate that the public strongly supports gaming on Indian reservations. In surveys done all over the country, the general public favors casino-style gambling on Indian lands but opposes expanded non-Indian gaming. The reasons given for supporting tribal gaming are consistent with the purposes behind IGRA: The revenues will help the tribes and surrounding communities become economically self-sufficient, and tribes should have the right to govern their own lands. This was further confirmed in August 2001 by a statewide survey of California voters that showed they supported tribal government gaming by 78 percent, and in San Diego County by 80 percent.

The best public opinion survey of record was the March 7, 2000 vote of Californians, which gave landslide (64.6 percent) multi-party support for Proposition 1A, the California Indian Self-Reliance amendment to the state constitution, which permits tribal governments to keep the limited, regulated gaming they have on tribal lands. San Diego County voters supported this tribal-state compact with a 71 percent “yes” multi-party vote.

Tribal-State Gaming Compact

Click here to view the Compact.