By John Karhiio Kane
First, let me state for the record that I am a Mohawk, my wife is Oneida and I live on the Seneca Territory of Cattaraugus south of Buffalo, N.Y. In spite of my connection to all three Native gaming communities, I receive no gaming proceeds from any Native gaming, nor does my family.
While I am not a fan of gaming, I will always defend the right for Native communities to be a part of the industry. And although I am opposed to casinos being the end goal to an economic development objective, I’ll concede some value to it as a means for creating revenue so other community goals can be realized.
Native casinos face many of the same challenges as other non-Native gaming enterprises. But several clear distinctions need to be made between what exists now and what the governor has proposed.
The reason gaming works for small populations supported by Native gaming is obvious—gaming revenue comes from outside these communities from larger populations that ultimately create revenue for smaller populations. If Seneca, Mohawk or Oneida gaming had to rely only on their own small populations for patronage, they would still only be operating tiny bingo halls.
With the exception of Las Vegas and maybe Atlantic City, casinos draw 90 per-cent of their patronage from within a 50-mile radius of the venue. New York State will never be Nevada or New Jersey, and those New Yorkers who love jumping on a plane to Vegas will still continue to do so. Neither Vegas nor Atlantic City will lose out to the Borscht Belt. That means all the revenue projections the gaming hawks are throwing around [will not be] new money coming into an area, nor will New York State casinos head off some inflated number of gaming dollars rushing out of the state. It will be local income, which will be spent by local patrons without much disposable income but with false hopes of big wins—which will never materialize.
Where will the money made by these new casinos go? Native gaming operators are local, as are their shareholders, so every dollar of profit from Native gaming is essentially funneled back into the local economies. And that includes government programs, services and any indirect or direct benefit to the Native people of those communities.
By contrast, the proposed state licensed casinos and current racetrack casinos will be operated by large gaming corporations with interests, financiers, investors and shareholders from across the globe. While the idea of outside investment coming into an area sounds nice, it is not so great when that giant sucking sound starts pulling all of that gaming revenue out of the area. And speaking of giant slurping sounds, consider this—a tax of more than 40 percent by Albany will also ensure that even more money flows freely out of the host communities. Only this carved-out portion will go into the state coffers’ black hole. I know the governor promised that portions of that revenue would return to the communities that get a casino in their backyards. But in reality, that will be a very small portion.
The promise of jobs is also overstated. The vast majority of gaming jobs pay at or about minimum wage. Tips may push some of the salaries up to a more attractive level, but the funny thing about tips is that they fade away with the novelty of the venue. The first waves of gambling enthusiasts are quick to flash the cash, but as gaming losses add up—and they certainly will—the tips quickly diminish. No one has ever sought help for tipping addictions.
And the big salaried jobs that have been dangled in front of us? Reality check—they will mostly be imports. The specialized skill of “player development” and maximizing gaming profits has no room for on-the-job training. These highly skilled jobs will get filled by shuffling the deck within those lucrative gaming corps chomping at the bit for a crack at New York.
So while gaming supporters claim that billions will be made off the backs of upstate gaming patrons, they fail to suggest where those patrons will materialize with billions to lose on this type of “entertainment.” Who will lose business as spending habits shift, and just what won’t get purchased so gaming dollars can materialize, will remain to be seen. It’s easy to suggest we just “build it and they will come.” But where will they come from? And where will this necessary disposable income come from? Make no mistake: It will come…and it will go.
John Karhiio Kane, Mohawk, a national commentator on Native American issues, hosts “Let’s Talk Native…with John Kane,” ESPN-AM 1520 in Buffalo, Sundays, 9–11 p.m. He is a frequent guest on WGRZ-TV’s (NBC/Buffalo) 2 Sides and The Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter in Albany. John’s Native Pride blog can be found at www.letstalknativepride.blogspot.com. He also has a very active “Let’s Talk Native… with John Kane” group page on Facebook.