|According to data from Gannett News Service btting at tribal casinos grew 13 percent last year, four times faster than gambling in Las Vegas or on Mississippi riverboats.|
Tribal casinos reaped in $14.5 billion in 2002, according to data from the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) compared with $12.8 billion in 2001. Nearly all the growth came as tribal casinos expanded because only one Indian casino was added last year. Indian gaming is growing quickly, partly because most gamblers live closer to tribal casinos than Las Vegas or Atlantic City, said Alan Meister, an economist at the Analysis Group consulting company in Los Angeles. Some of the larger tribal casinos have been building grander resorts with arenas, large hotels and even a white-sand lagoon to bring in more customers.
Meanwhile, commercial casinos and racetracks nationwide - including Las Vegas; Atlantic City, N.J.; and boats along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers - saw revenue rise only 3 percent last year, to $26.5 billion. Casinos' intake in Las Vegas and Reno dropped last year.
The phenomenon hasn't escaped Arizona, albeit on a smaller scale than some resorts in Southern California or Connecticut. This month in Tucson, Casino Del Sol expanded, adding a Tuscan village theme. The casino also has a 4,600-seat outdoor amphitheater and a hotel and golf course are planned. According to Commission data the number of Indian gambling operations making more than $100 million a year has nearly doubled in five years to 41 in 2002.
Nationally, tribes are building casinos off their reservations such as one in Niagara Falls, N.Y. According to William Thompson, a gambling expert at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, under federal law, governors have the right to block these deals, but a few state leaders are supporting this development in exchange for more revenue for state coffers.
Surprisingly Heidi FleisS the former Hollywood madam wants a share of the action. According to news sources, Heidi Fleiss is in talks with several Indian leaders about opening some very sexy casinos. Fleiss helped hatch a brothel in Australia, but she says she's not talking about prostitution here. Instead of heading for Nevada, where hooking is legal, she wants to open gambling-and-showgirls resorts in Palm Springs, Calif., and in the Black Hills of North Dakota.
'The Black Hills are sacred,' says John Yellowbird Steele, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. 'Gambling, alcohol and saloons are not things that any nation would put into its synagogues or churches. We would object morally and physically to such a thing happening.'
A spokesman for the Agua Caliente Band of the Cauhilla Indians, which runs several casinos in the Palm Springs area, declined to comment. But Roger Stone, a Republican campaign adviser who has helped build two Indian casinos in California, turned up his nose at Heidi's Oasis in the Desert, Fleiss' tentative name for her vision of a Crazy Horse Saloon with crap tables.
'Indians generally don't want their casinos to look like Las Vegas,' says Stone. 'They want to showcase their culture.'
All the same, Fleiss crows that 'my name can outdo' that of Donald Trump, who teamed up with the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Luiseno Mission Indians to open the Trump 29 Casino in Palm Springs. 'We'd look forward to having her in the area,' Trump says with a chuckle. 'She'd certainly add some spice.'
Meanwhile the tribal casino's have a fair share of opposition brewing. GOP leaders in the U.S. House have penned a polite warning to U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton to tread carefully in considering tribal applications for off-reservation casinos. This development is not good news for a pair of gambling parlors proposed near Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan.
The issue has generated friction for years. This latest congressional correspondence may be the first salvo in a messy confrontation to resolve it. Oddly enough, Norton would appear to be a congressional ally.
In a letter to a New York tribe last fall, the Interior boss worried that off-reservation casino requests seemed increasingly aimed at capturing lucrative urban markets rather than instilling tribal self-sufficiency on historic reservation lands -- which federal law intended. Critics are of the opinion that federal tribal gambling standards 'are not consistently enforced and tribal territorial land issues are as inconsistently enforced as any part of that process.
The Interior Department is considering numerous off-reservation proposals around the country, including in Kansas.
The Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma has a deal pending south of the Kansas Speedway, while a partnership of the Sac and Fox and Kickapoo tribes proposes a casino at the western fringe of the Speedway and Village West entertainment and shopping district.
The tribes claim historic ties to the area, but not much land. In each case, they would simply purchase choice real estate near the track and petition Norton's agency to declare it tribal territory, in a mockery of congressional intent.
What's worrisome is that Interior has declared such 'instant reservations' before in isolated cases.
That trickle of exceptions now threatens to become a flood as tribes shed tradition and grab for the brass ring of urban casino entrepreneurship. Blunt and other House leaders are watching closely. If another instant reservation pops up out of nowhere, Blunt expects a swift congressional response. Meanwhile the tribal casino's are rolling their dice and getting lucky.