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California Center for Native Nations

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Remote Reservations Enjoy Big Benefits

Indian gaming does more than just bring much-needed revenue to Indian reservations, according to research by the California Center for Native Nations.

Indian reservations are frequently located in remote and inhospitable locations of the state, while more desirable locations for development have been snapped up by wealthier and more politically-connected land developers. As a result, inhabitants of Indian reservations experience disproportionately high rates of poverty compared to the national average.

The nature of Indian gaming tends to focus a strong level of economic impact exactly where such benefits are needed most. Areas where Indian gaming has taken root receive comparatively more revenue than non-gaming reservations, which has allowed these tribes to provide employment and essential public services to their members. And until California voters passed propositions that changed the contract between Indian gaming casinos and the state in the fall of 2007, the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund was an effective mechanism for leveling some of the economic inequality that was found to exist between gaming and non-gaming tribes.

Long-term Effects of Indian Gaming Still Unknown

The rise of Indian gaming in California has occurred largely in the last eight years, which means the most accurate means for analyzing the impact of such growth – through changes in the U.S. Census – is still years away.

California’s then-Governor Gray Davis signed the first gaming compacts with tribes in 1999. The state’s citizens ratified most Indian gaming compacts with the state only in 2000, after the Census for that year was completed. As a result, the benchmark exists for a qualitative study on the overall effect of Indian gaming on reservations and surrounding areas. But the corresponding examination of how that wave of economic prosperity has affected reservations and surrounding lands is still a few years off.

There is much room for improvement on reservations where Indian gaming has thrived. Many of the conditions on reservation lands were far below those on surrounding property, meaning Indian land had plenty of “catching up” to do. But until the results of the 2010 Census are available, researchers will lack a comprehensive tool to ascertain how much of a positive impact gaming has brought to the reservations.

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