Summit studies Indian gaming

DENVER – Representatives of 23 American Indian tribes gathered Tuesday for a summit with Western governors to discuss Indian gaming and potential changes to the federal law that oversees the industry.

With Congress pondering increased oversight, tribal leaders were eager to point out the benefits of gambling – not just to their own people, but also to surrounding communities.

“In New York, we have created 5,000 jobs for Indians and non-Indians,” said Keller George, president of the United Southern and Eastern Tribes. “In Florida, they have created 15,000 jobs in and around Miami. Indian gaming has helped everybody.”

The two-day summit, sponsored by the Western Governors Association, is designed to look at the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which allowed tribes to open casinos.

At a news conference, Republican Govs. Bill Owens of Colorado and Michael Rounds of South Dakota expressed concerns about casino expansion, decrying the practice of tribes putting land in trust so they can use it for off-reservation gambling.

For example, Owens now is battling the Cheyenne-Arapahoe tribe of Oklahoma, which has laid claim to nearly 30 million acres of Colorado. The tribe has said it will relinquish the land in exchange for the right to build a casino east of Denver.

Meanwhile, the National Indian Gaming Association on Tuesday released its own analysis of the effect of Indian gambling.

According to the study, $18.5 billion has been generated by gaming, along with 553,000 jobs. The analysis said 20 percent of Indian gaming revenue was used for education, child care and cultural preservation; 19 percent for economic development; 17 percent for health care and 11 percent for housing. The rest of the money generated was divided up among police and infrastructure needs.

Tribes with gambling had lower poverty rates: 24.7 percent compared with 33 percent for those without gaming, the report said.

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