Just like commercial casinos, coronavirus concerns forced the closure of the entire tribal casino industry this year, devastating economies on Native American lands.
Those financial losses will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to recoup for Native American communities even as those casinos have been reopening over the past few weeks.
In 2018, the latest annual figures from the National Indian Gaming Commission, tribal casinos set a record with $33.7 billion in Gross Gaming Revenue nationwide.
But in 2020, tribes stand to lose $22.4 billion in projected revenue from casino closures related to coronavirus, according to a report in the Wisconsin State Journal on Monday.
National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernest L. Stevens Jr., a member of the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin, told the State Journal that, “Gaming for the most part is what we survive on. In a lot of cases, if we don’t have gaming we don’t have dollars. We don’t have a tax base.”
Further, Stevens told Indian Country Today in May: “While all of our tribes throughout the Nation have been impacted by COVD-19, tribes in the southwest region are feeling greater consequences of the pandemic.” That story noted that previous pandemics such as Spanish Influenza and H1N1 hit some Indian communities at four times the national rate.
Small wonder that tribal casinos have taken measures just as commercial casinos across the U.S have done in implementing new safety and cleaning protocols. And three tribal casinos in Arizona shuttered for a second time this month amid a rise in COVID-19 cases statewide, according to an azcentral.com story.
There are more tribal casinos in the United States than there are commercial casinos — 524 to 465, according to the American Gaming Association. Another AGA report indicates that about 45% of all gaming revenue in the United States is generated at tribal casinos.
Oklahoma is the state with the most casinos on tribal lands with 140, according to the most recent AGA figures available. California is next with 77 tribal casinos, followed by Minnesota with 40.
Again according to the AGA, as of 2018 tribal casinos added $20 billion to the state economy in California alone. The tribes stood in opposition to a proposed sports betting bill in California, and on Monday the bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Bill Dodd, said he would pull the bill from consideration.