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Tim Giago: State stifling growth on reservations

Posted by request of Tim Giago, Nanwica Kciji. © 2006 Native American Journalists Foundation, Inc.

Something is rotten in South Dakota and the smell seems to be emanating from the office of Republican Governor Mike Rounds, the man just re-elected to serve as governor for the next four years.

It would be presumptuous of me to play the race card here so I will set down the facts and let my readers decide. But first a little history of Indian gaming.

When Congress signed into law the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1987 it included certain specifications that many of the older and wiser traditional Indian leaders found unacceptable. However, younger and greedier heads prevailed. One specification gave state governments jurisdiction over Indian casinos within their boundaries. The law stated that Indian tribes could only have games that were legal within the state. In other words, if there were no legal slot machines in the state the tribes were prevented from having slot machines in their casinos.

The Act also said that the Indian tribes had to sign a compact that had to be approved by the state government. This gave the state government the power to tell a sovereign Indian nation how many slot machines they could have and what other gaming devices they would consider as legal. Without a gaming compact an Indian tribe could not operate a casino.

Some tribes, primarily the Apache, told the state government to “go to hell” and they put in the number of gaming devices they wanted in their casinos. Their obstinate stand proved to be a winner and the states involved failed to stop them.

In South Dakota the government wanted to revive gaming in Deadwood. The Deadwood Initiative went on the ballot and as publisher of the Lakota Times I waited until a couple of weeks before the election and then came out with an editorial urging all tribal members to vote yes on approving gaming for Deadwood. In this fashion any gaming device allowed in Deadwood would also be allowed on the Indian reservations. The Deadwood measure passed unanimously and thus opened the doors for gaming on the reservations.

The South Dakota tribes were restricted in the number of gaming devices they could have in their casinos by the state/tribal compacts. For instance, each tribe was allowed only 250 slot machines. Since the first Indian casino opened more than 15 years ago that number has remained the same. It’s as if growth is allowed in the gaming industry in South Dakota everywhere except on the Indian reservations, the poorest counties in the state.

As an example, in 1990 Deadwood had 863 slot machines. In 2005 it had 2,996 slot machines. South Dakota Video Lottery had 2,439 slot machines in 1990. In 2005 it had 8,564 slot machines. This means that from 1990 to 2005 the number of slot machines owned by white operators grew by 8,258 slot machines.

In 1990 Indian casinos had 1,667 slot machines. In 2005 Indian casinos still had only 1,667 slot machines. This means that the number of slot machines in casinos owned by the Indian people had a growth of ZERO. Scorecard: Additional slot machines to white operators since 1990 — 8,258. Additional slot machines to Indian operators since 1990 — 0.

Gov. Rounds would probably say that the growth in white owned casinos came about because more gaming establishments were built. Is that any reason to prevent economic growth in the most impoverished communities in South Dakota?

Four years ago I sat in the audience and listened to the several candidates running for the office of governor in South Dakota. I was most impressed with the comments of candidate Rounds when he said, “I will open my house to the Indian leaders in this state and invite them to have a meal with me so we can talk about the problems they face.” In fact, I was so impressed that my newspaper at the time, The Lakota Journal, endorsed him for governor, only the second time we had ever endorsed a Republican.

As many of my readers know, I am not exactly pro-gaming, but I am most definitely pro-growth. Because gaming is legal in most of America, it has allowed the poorest people in this country, the Indian tribes, to gain a semblence of financial stability and independence. In South Dakota the opportunity to grow and to generate the finances to become economically viable is stifled by the inconsiderate (I almost said racist) attitude of Governor Rounds. He can applaud the growth of the economy in Deadwood and in the communities with video lottery, but he refuses to push for the growth of the economy on the Indian reservations.

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in eastern South Dakota is situated in an area with a fairly large and growing population. As the surrounding communities grow the tribe has attempted to grow along with them but it cannot do so unless the governor allows it to increase the number of slot machines in its casino. It is a simple matter of arithmetic. On busy weekend nights people have to stand in line to play the 250 slot machines now available. The income of the tribe and hence its economic growth would increase ten-fold if its expansion was not blocked by a seemingly unfeeling governor.

It is high time Governor Rounds lived up to his campaign promises and stops standing in the way of economic growth on the Indian reservations. What is he afraid of? Economic growth and stability on the Indian reservations can only mean the same for the rest of the state.

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