The Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate owns and operate the Dakota Magic Casino and Hotel in Hankinson, North Dakota. Photo: SWO

Donovan White: Standing up for Native Americans and Native American jobs

On behalf of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, I would like to thank Senators John Thune, Mike Rounds, John Hoeven, and Kevin Cramer, Representatives Dusty Johnson and DescriptionKelly Armstrong, and Governors Kirsti Noem and Doug Burgum for their support the eligibility of small tribal gaming businesses under the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program.

In North and South Dakota, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate operates Dakota Magic Casino, Dakota Sioux Casino, and Dakota Crossing travel center. Through our gaming, hotels and restaurants, and convenience store, Sisseton-Wahpeton has created hundreds of jobs. Our tribal gaming and hospitality jobs are important because in the Dakotas, every job counts. Throughout South Dakota, our Sioux Nation tribes generate approximately 6,000 direct jobs through Indian gaming. Together, we support thousands more Dakota jobs through contracts for goods and services.

The CARES Act SBA PPP includes an “Increased Eligibility” Rule to extend its coverage to any business, veteran’s organization, non-profit or tribal business concern—thereby making Tribal Government businesses eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program along with agriculture enterprises, veteran’s organizations, non-profit corporations and other small businesses. Yet, the SBA raised a barrier to small gaming operations by using its Standard Operating Procedures prohibiting loans to most “legal gambling” enterprises.

To Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin, Senator Thune said, this is “an issue for numerous businesses in South Dakota…. I respectfully request … that PPP eligibility be extended to legal gaming businesses, including those in Indian country, that otherwise meet the small business criteria defined in the regulations and statute.”

Senator Rounds said, “These are extraordinary times for our country and our economy. Small businesses represent 99 percent of all private businesses and nearly 60 percent of the workforce in South Dakota. Providing relief for each and every one of these businesses will be critical in the weeks and months ahead.” He also directly asked the President for economic relief for us.

In a joint letter, Congressmen Johnson and Armstrong explained: “This issue is especially important in rural areas, like North and South Dakota, where small gaming operations are among the top employers in their communities. In particular, tribal gaming facilities operate primarily to provide employment in impoverished reservation areas. The National Indian Gaming Commission reported in 2018 that the smallest 106 tribal gaming operations generate only $112 million annually.”

Donovan White serves as chairman of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, an Indian nation with homelands in present-day South Dakota and North Dakota. Courtesy photo

Governor Noem said, “Many of South Dakota’s small gaming businesses have already been affected by the pandemic…. [T]ribal gaming operations provide employment opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable…. South Dakota has approximately 1,300 licensed video lottery establishments, which equates to nearly 5,000 employees [and] an industry that is the state’s second largest source of revenue. Deadwood is home to 120 licensed gaming locations that employ nearly 1,200 South Dakotans.”

Governor Burgum said, “In North Dakota, tribal gaming operations provide hundreds of jobs for both native and non-native employees. Small gaming operations under 500 employees are frequently among the largest employers in their communities…. We respectfully request that the SBA … include[e] tribal gaming enterprises [as] eligible for PPP as Congress intended.”

Senator Cramer played an important role in resolving this issue as a Member of the SBA committee, and he wrote: “In practical terms, Congress created the PPP to ensure tangible financial relief could be delivered to the broadest section of small businesses as possible. To this end, the legislation specifically includes “any... tribal business concerns” under 500 employees as eligible entities for the PPP…. To ensure the PPP can fulfil this purpose, we respectfully request that the SBA issue updated guidance to clarify that any tribal business, including tribal gaming enterprises, are eligible for the PPP as Congress intended.

Senator Hoeven, as Chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee played a leading role in this important achievement, explaining: “Indian gaming enterprises are uniquely situated economic drivers for their local communities and the majority of these tribal businesses are located in rural areas where they are the primary employers. Treasury’s decision to include more tribally owned businesses as eligible for PPP protects jobs in rural America from the negative economic impacts of COVID-19.”

As an Indian nation, the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate is proud and appreciative of our North and South Dakota Governors, Senators and Congressmen for stepping forward to protect Dakota jobs, and especially tribal government gaming enterprises. So we wanted to highlight their great work on behalf of all Dakotans. The SBA said in its new PPP Guidance, which applies to tribal, commercial, charitable and lottery gaming:

Are businesses that receive revenue from legal gaming eligible for a PPP Loan?
A business that is otherwise eligible for a PPP Loan is not rendered ineligible due to its receipt of legal gaming revenues, and 13 CFR 120.110(g) is inapplicable to PPP loans. Businesses that received illegal gaming revenue remain categorically ineligible. On further consideration, the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary, believes this approach is more consistent with the policy aim of making PPP loans available to a broad segment of U.S. businesses.

We also wanted to thank the bi-partisan group of Senators and Congressmen who worked together to secure this important, more inclusive policy towards tribal business, including Rep. Sharice Davids (Kansas) (Ho-Chunk), Senator Jerry Moran (Kansas), Senator Schumer (New York), Senators Udall, Heinrich, Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Lujan, Native American Caucus Co-Chairs Rep. Deb Haaland (New Mxico), and Rep. Tom Cole (Oklahoma), Senators Daines and Tester (Montana), and many, many others.

Thank you all for standing up for Native Americans and American jobs!

Donovan White serves as chairman of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, an Indian nation with homelands in South Dakota and North Dakota.

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