Gambling laws are highly restrictive across the US, covering everything from lotteries and bingo games to betting shops and casinos. This has led, of course, to the rise of Las Vegas – an epic shrine to gambling in all its forms. But it has also led to the increasing popularity of Native American gaming – as the usual laws do not apply in Indian governed land. Virtually all native tribes now operate some kind of commercial gambling businesses – usually in the form of casinos. While this may seem like a betrayal of culture, a seedbed for corruption and a form of irresponsible tourism, closer investigation reveals that, in fact, the casino revenues are being put to surprisingly good use.
NC’s Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians opened their first gaming facilities in the 1990s; the success of these businesses resulted in the building of a casino despite resistance from the state governor. While exempt from the usual state bans, tribal gaming is still regulated – and one stipulation is that the profits must be reinvested into welfare and economic development of the communities. Revenue from Harrah’s Casino
has since funded a hospital, high school and social housing, and supported emergency services on the territory. The tribal council also voted to give half of the casino’s profits directly to the Cherokee community. To begin with, this resulted in a sum of around $500 per person. As the modest profits have grown into something more substantial, each member of the tribe now receives around $10,000 annually – and this has transformed life in Cherokee.
The Cherokee, like other Native American tribes and indeed indigenous communities around the world, are traditionally some of America’s most deprived and marginalised citizens, with high unemployment rates, low levels of education and high levels of substance abuse. The basic income provided by the casino means that no one needs to go hungry; children from poor families can now pay university fees; and unemployed adults have invested in creating their own businesses – from salons to auto repair workshops.* This injection of cash has been credited with boosting academic performance and drastically reducing crime levels. Plus, while many would assume that this form of “welfare” might encourage people to sit back and do nothing – it has actually increased job prospects and self employment opportunities for the tribe. In short, the Cherokee and their casino have achieved what no government in the world has yet managed: they have eliminated poverty. This is an even bigger achievement when put into the context of NC as a whole; between 2008 and 2012, poverty across the state grew by over 23 percent,** while average poverty rates on Indian Reservations vary from 20-50 percent.
Native American gambling is not without its critics, of course – from the traditional, conservative leaders of the region who see gaming as encouraging corruption, to the tribal elders who would prefer to keep non-Native Americans off their reservation. But whether you’re a supporter of gambling or not, it’s fascinating to observe how the sharing of profits amongst a whole community – rather than channeling it to a tiny group of businessmen at the top – has ruled out just about every major social problem that exists in the developed world today.
** Source: Business Insider