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Indian gaming booming locally, nationwide

LOS ANGELES

Indian gaming in the United States is booming and it’s showing a profit on the Navajo Reservation as well. The National Indian Gaming Commission released its figures for 2018, which show that Indian gaming nationwide brought in a total of $33.7 billion, an increase of 4.1 percent over the previous year.

And with many tribal casinos offering sports betting for the first time in 2019, that total is expected to surpass $35 billion this year, according to some estimates. The 2018 figures, according to the commission, were the highest in the industry’s history and even more importantly, every administrative region within the commission showed positive growth.

The Portland region led the way with an 8.2 percent increase, followed by the Oklahoma region with 7.2. The Phoenix region, which includes the Navajo casinos, was up almost 4 percent. That gross revenue is determined, said the commission, by taking the total amount wagered and subtracting winnings so it doesn’t include other sourcest like restaurant revenue. Currently, 241 tribes across 29 states offer gaming. “These numbers reaffirm the industry’s health as a stable economic driver for Indian Country,” said Kathryn Isom-Clause, vice chair of the commission.

As for the four Navajo casinos, 2018 was a profitable year, said Brian Parrish, the interim CEO for the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise. The Navajo Nation, like almost all of the Indian nations that have gaming, doesn’t publicize its earnings but Parrish said that the enterprise has made a profit every year since it was created. What figures that are available come from the New Mexico Gaming office. The office makes public how much each tribe makes in revenue from its slot machine operations. The tribal operations at the Fire Rock and Northern Edge casinos bring in between $19 million and $21 million each quarter.

This is gross revenue so the enterprise has to pay its salaries and expenses out of this. These figures also don’t include revenues from the smaller casino in Hogback. As for Twin Arrows Navajo Casino and Resort, that has been reported to be profitable as well, sort of. The casino makes enough to pay for the salaries of employees and its operating expenses, which include interest payments on its $200-plus million loan from the tribe to build it, but it is still struggling to pay down the principal.

The enterprise is hoping to change that over the course of the next year as it starts to offer sports betting, first in New Mexico and then in Arizona. The good thing about that is introducing sports betting will not cause a big increase in operational expenses so a good portion of that revenue will go directly to profit.

In their promotion of Indian gaming, Navajo gaming officials released figures last year that indicated the gaming operation has already put more than a billion dollars into the area economy when you take into consideration both direct effects, such as salaries, and indirect effects, such as the purchase of Navajo beef and other products. Parrish said he is also seeing a shift in the way the Navajo people view gaming on the reservation.

The tribe held two referendums trying to get the support of the Navajo voters, who voted it down both times. But Parrish believes that over the past several years, as the enterprise has educated the public about the benefits of gaming and sharing its results, the mood of the Navajo people has changed to where most now feel it has had a positive influence.

About The Author

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan has been writing about the Navajo Nation government since 1971 and for the Navajo Times since 1976. He is currently semi-retired and is living in Torrance, California, and continues to report for the Navajo Times.