Native American Casinos Will Provide Financial Benefits to California By ZACHARY RUNNING WOLF

Tuesday April 05, 2005

I, Zachary Running Wolf, provide leadership and effort on behalf of 85,000 Native Americans here in the Bay Area (the second largest urban native population after Oklahoma City). 

Gaming is a sovereign right, dating back thousands of years in historical and cultural connections, because my people traditionally used gaming to hone their intuition in hunting. 

California has a unique situation like no other state: The tribes have compacts with the governor, that the tribes will donate 8.5 percent of the profits from gaming to the state. I applaud the tribes, since they do not have an obligation to negotiate with the governor, nor are they required to pay taxes on the gaming profits, because the tribes are sovereign states. 

The fact is that California Native Americans are offering to pay these self-taxes, which will amount to billions of dollars to state coffers. This is a gift and should be appreciated, since the federal government is removing billions of dollars by either corporatizing or financially starving basic resources such as schools, libraries, hospitals, clinics, and other badly need institutions. 

I realize that there are arguments and concerns regarding gaming, which are weak at best (no one is forced to patronized a gaming casino), and seem downright racist (white-operated casinos have flourished without interference for a very long time in this country). 

Furthermore, the argument that gaming is going to be brought to the urban environment is specious. I have to inform you that your concern is too late: There are scratchers and the state lottery in every corner store, as well as the race track in the East Bay, and many card rooms dot the Bay Area.  

As for the specter of increased crime, let me ask: When you are at South Lake Tahoe, or the Oaks Card Room, do you see people getting mugged, or robberies being staged? What makes you think such activities are going to be permitted at Indian casinos? As a matter of fact, Indian gaming places across the country have an excellent safety record. 

Impoverishing poor people is another argument raised against Indian casinos. Why are poor people going to be any more impoverished by Indian gaming than by gaming clubs run by white people—to say nothing of the lottery? I have not seen crowds of poor people at casinos—it is usually middle-income and wealthy people who patronize them. The large donations to the state, to be used for the deteriorating public institutions, and the many jobs provided by gaming will aid the poor people in the long run.  

With regard to the concern about addiction, one of the latest surveys concludes that 3 percent of gamblers have a serious addiction problem. That is too many—any addicted persons are too many. California Indian gaming makes major contributions to Gamblers Anonymous and does commercials warning against addiction. Addiction is regarded medically and psychiatrically as a disease, to be treated—and that includes addiction to alcohol, drugs, fatty foods, sugar, anorexia, and other substances and behaviors. Why are critics suddenly picking on gaming, especially Indian gaming, as a topic of major concern? 

Finally, increased traffic has been cited as a problem with some Indian gaming locations. If you’ve ever tried to drive on 80 or 580 when racing season is on, you can understand the concern. But the race track has not been closed down because of traffic problems. An offer by a Native American tribe of $25 million to push forward the already-planned highway and traffic improvement project should be accepted, rather than using the already existing traffic problems as an excuse to deny the establishment of the gaming site—which would also be reachable by public transportation. 

By the way, this country has not kept its side of almost any treaty made with Native Americans in some 450 years—a pathetic and scandalous record. And now that Native Americans have found a way to get a small piece of the pie, through gaming, there is every effort being made to deprive them of even that. 

I put it to the discerning reader that Indian-owned gaming casinos are a boon to California (the fifth-largest economy in the world). And as California goes, so goes the nation. 


Zachary Running Wolf is a Berkeley resident.›