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Tribal Government Gaming Brings Benefits

Tribal Government Gaming in California Brings Jobs, Income, to Areas Most in Need of Development

UC Riverside researchers publish ground-breaking economic and political study of tribal government gaming

(January 19, 2006)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( -- Tribal government gaming in California has brought substantial economic benefits to tribal members and their neighbors, but there are still large gaps between the conditions on Indian reservations in California and those enjoyed by other Americans.

According to a ground-breaking report done by the Center for California Native Nations at UC Riverside, tribal governments with gaming have fared better than non-gaming tribes, with gaming tribes’ per capita average income increasing 55% between 1990 and 2000 as opposed to 15 percent on non-gaming reservations.

“It was a welcome surprise to see that because of where reservations are located, that the benefits of tribal government gaming are going to exactly the regions that most needed development,” said Joel Martin, principal investigator for the study and the director of the Center for California Native Nations. “Another thing that surprised me is that a survey of local, county and state government have a fairly positive view of tribal government gaming.”

Martin, who is also interim dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, brought a team of researchers together that married the numbers-crunching abilities of economists with the survey abilities of political scientists and interview techniques of anthropologists and historians. The funding came from the Pechanga Tribal Government.

Project coordinator, Kate Spilde Contreras, said the research underlines the wisdom of the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund (RSTF)— created in an agreement between the gaming tribes and the state -- to address inequalities between gaming and non-gaming tribes in California. According to surveys conducted by the Center, payments to the RSTF have been invested in ways that allow tribal governments without casinos to expand their services to tribal members. “But the average income for American Indians in California is still well below the national average,” she said.

The study is based on U.S. Census Data from 1990 and 2000, as well as extensive surveys of governmental officials in California and interviews with tribal representatives. The UCR research team unveiled results at the Western Indian Gaming Conference, held in Palm Springs earlier this month.

“Maximizing the benefits of Indian gaming is a goal of all governmental policy makers, especially those from tribal governments,” said Contreras. “There is a clear need for data about Indian gaming. There is also a need for a serious academic analysis. Congress, local governments, the press and the public have repeatedly asked for more information on Indian gaming than is currently available. This study provides a broad assessment of the impact of tribal governments on the state of California.”

Other findings
• When examined at the tract level, 11% of California’s population lives near a tribal gaming facility.
• In California counties with gaming, on average there are 5.4 slot machines per 1,000 inhabitants. San Diego and Riverside Counties have 4.4 and 6 slots per 1,000 people, respectively. Colusa County has 41 slots per 1,000 people.
• Between 1990 and 2000, the American Indian population on California reservations (gaming and non-gaming) has grown, on average, about 6 percent annually. That is more than the 2 percent average growth annually on reservations in the rest of the U.S.
• Between 1990 and 2000, tribal governments with gaming in California saw a significant reduction in the percentage of families in poverty, from 36 percent in 1990 to 26 percent in 2000. That is still well above the national average (about 10 percent).
• The poorest communities in California in1990 have captured the largest increases in median family income.
• Overall employment grew about 3.9 percent between 1990 and 2000 in areas near tribal gaming establishments, even after controlling for population growth.

Anthony Miranda, a member of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians in Temecula and Chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA), said the study provides an important benchmark for analyzing change over the term of the existing tribal-state compacts.

“The first compacts between California tribal governments and the state were signed in 2000,” said Miranda, an alumnus of UC Riverside. “This research provides an important evaluation of the impact of tribal government gaming during its initial growth phase in the 1990’s. Now we will have the methodology to generate a systematic analysis of the impacts of gaming under those compacts, which include mitigation and revenue-sharing provisions for both local governments and non-gaming tribes.”

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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