Friday, July 27, 2007

Casinos and Native American Wealth

In my previous post, I described a drive through the Pala Band of Mission Indians reservation. In the part that I visited, the roads were unpaved and very rough, and it didn't appear that the houses had running water (though I could be wrong on that).

And all of this was within walking distance of a huge, multi-story hotel/casino complex.

Back in 2005, Edward Sifuentes wrote an article that talked about the economic effects of casinos for Indian tribes. Here's a little bit of what he said:

Besides the gleaming towers built by gambling wealth, there is evidence in nearly every American Indian reservation in the region that the casino industry is improving people's lives. New homes are being built and old ones are being spruced up. Health centers are expanding their services and sports complexes are being developed. Monthly payments are being disbursed and scholarships are being awarded to tribal members....

Nationwide, casino gambling helped American Indians raise their standard of living during the 1990s, but they were still among the poorest people in the nation, according to a Harvard University study released this month.

Family poverty rates among tribes with casinos fell from 36 percent in 1990 to 27 percent in 2000. But that rate was still three times higher than the national average of 9 percent, according to the study.

There are some specific comments about the Pala Band of Mission Indians.

[T]he Pala Band of Mission Indians, which runs a profitable casino near the busy Interstate 15 between Temecula and Escondido, has used its money build tribal government buildings, housing for its members and even disburse monthly payments to tribal members, much like investors in a corporation.

Payments from gambling profits to tribal members ---- for those that receive them ---- are rarely discussed openly, but are said to range from a few hundred dollars a month to around $10,000 a month for local tribal members.

But apparently not enough money to pave the roads. I'm glad I wasn't driving in the rain.

And the Pala Band is lucky:

Tribes fortunate enough to have their reservations near urban centers or near major highway arteries have clearly had an advantage. Others in remote areas of the county have had to struggle to find their way.

"We didn't ask to be on this land," said Johnny Hernandez, chairman of the Santa Ysabel Band of Diegueno Mission Indians, whose reservation is on a mountainous region 40 miles east of Escondido, where they plan to start building a casino this year.

Many of the Santa Ysabel reservation residents live in dire conditions, some without electricity or running water. But the tribe has used money from a gambling profit-sharing program to pay for scholarships.


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