Public Comment

Commentary: A Look at Indian Gaming

By Ralph Stone
Tuesday January 29, 2008

The arguments for and against the California Indian Gaming agreement propositions, Propositions 94, 95, 96 and 97, has prompted me to re-examine an underlying assumption about Indian gaming. That is, does California’s $7 billion Indian gaming industry substantially benefit California Indians economically and socially? There are 105 tribal entities in California with approximately 56,158 tribal members. There are 31 gaming tribal casinos. Yes, Indian gaming revenue has been used to build houses, schools, roads and sewer and water systems and to fund health care and education for California’s gaming tribes and to a lesser extent, its non-gaming tribes. However, there remains a large economic and social disparity between California Indians and those of other Americans. 

The average income for American Indians in California is well below the national average. “An Impact Analysis of Tribal Government Gaming in California,” published by the Center for California Native Nations at the University of California, Riverside (January 2006) (“Analysis”), using 2000 statistics, found that the average income of California Indians was only 53 percent of the national average. The Analysis estimates that it will take 55 years at the present rate to close the gap. Further, the Analysis found that 26 percent of the California gaming tribe families and 30 percent of the non-gaming tribe families lived in poverty compared to 9 to 10 percent at the national and state level. The unemployment rate among the Indian population was 17 percent compared to 7 percent for non-Indian Californians. As for education, the Anaylsis found that 14 percent of Indians over the age of 25 are college graduates compared to 30 percent for non-Indians, and 6.3 percent of gaming tribes and 14.4 percent of non-gaming tribes had less than a 9th grade education compared to 7 percent for non-Indians. 

In addition, there are large social gaps between American Indians (including Alaska Natives) and the general population. ( I am assuming that these statistics for American Indians as a whole would be similar for California Indians.) Crime rates among the American Indian population are significantly higher than in the general population. Based on Office of Applied Studies survey data, alcohol abuse is 10.7 percent and illicit drug use is 5 percent for American Indians as compared to 7.6 percent and 2.9 percent respectively for the general population. Census figures show that in 2004 one in six American Indians was separated or divorced compared to one in eight in the general population. Finally, the suicide rate among American male adolescents is two to four times the rate of the general population. 

Clearly, gaming revenue has not been the cure-all for the economic and social problems in the Indian community. Hopefully, future gaming revenue will be judiciously spent to eliminate the economic and social disparity between American Indians and the general population.  


Ralph E. Stone is a retired attorney living in San Francisco.