Alaska, Is It Time For Gaming?
by Randy Williams
July 28, 2004
Gaming is it the answer and is it time Alaska started to take
a serious look at it?
Alaska is one of a very few
states in the United States that does not have some form of gaming.
I for one do not believe this makesAlaskaand Alaskans unique
but instead mis-informed and in some regards just plain missing
Gaming is such a lucrative
and overwhelming success in the lower 48 that the cities, and
states have decided to become more actively involved in the gaming
environment. One can bemoan the somewhat archaic evils
of gaming but the fact is, gaming creates very well paying jobs
for a lot of people and creates a multitude of subsidiary business's
as well as enhances existing business in communities. Business's
such as food service, office product stores, office and printing
support business's, transportation, hotels and if done properly
gaming can enhance the overall promotion of tourism in any community.
For several years, I have been
writing to and talking to Sealaska and several of the Village
corporations about the money that can be made in gaming but to
little or no avail. Recently, Sealaska committed to a casino
in the San Diego area and by all accounts this turned out very
well for the corporation. I have not understood why these
corporations in Alaskahave not looked to invest in the gaming
industry but that is a decision that they have made and while
the Tribes in the lower 48 become wealthy Corporations we continue
to miss this golden opportunity. However, this is not about
Sealaska this is information for the State and it's citizens,
so they can get a feel for what
Gaming has meant not just for Tribes but States as well.
I will illustrate a few of
the facts about the Tribes inWashingtonand than attach a news
article from a Seattle Journal that will help to illustrate what
gambling has meant for these Tribes in the State ofWashington.
Keep in mind the Tribes inWashingtonhave
been in gaming for about 10 years and with the advent of slot
machines their net revenues at the Muckleshoot Tribe went from
about $24,000,000 a year to about $100,000,000. They as
well as thePuyallupand Tulalip Tribes are far and away the most
successful Tribes in the State ofWashington.
I will discuss a few of the
benefits that Tribal members derive from the casino's in the
- First and foremost are the
jobs that are created, each of the three casinos has over 1200
employees, this new job market has hired in excess of 50,000
people throughout the state of Washington. Although most
of these positions are minimum wage positions plus Tips, the
average annual salary is usually between $40,000 - $50,000 for
dealers and higher for management.
Beyond employment, the direct
benefit to the Tribal members is considerable and I will only
discuss a few of the benefits that I am aware of through my association
with these Tribes. Most if not all of these benefits are
derived directly from the Tribal casinos gaming revenue.
- Each Puyallup Tribal member
receive a $2,000 per month Tribal distribution from their casino
revenue, this is a fact and exclusive to this Tribes decision
to allocate their revenue to benefit their members directly.
- Muckleshoot gives their Tribal
members $30,000 for a down payment for a house. Muckleshoot
will give qualified Tribal members $30,000 for a down payment
and/or down payment and incidental costs for the purchase of
a home. Incidental costs could range from closing costs
to purchasing new furniture.
- Each Tribe provides an annual
distribution to Tribal members, this is not unlike Sealaska's
annual distribution only much larger.
- The Muckleshoot Tribe just
built a nice new day care facility for Tribal children, one of
many new facilities for the benefit of all Tribal members and
those employees who work in their casino.
- The Muckleshoot Tribe built
new elderly housing for their elders as well as new housing for
Tribal members, again all attributed to gaming dollars.
- Most of the Tribes pay 100%
of their children's education to any college or university in
- The Tulalip Tribe just built
a $250,000,000 casino and Shopping Mall with revenue derived
from their gaming operation.
- The Puyallups are building
a $200-300,000,000 casino on their property next to the Highway
I-5. These Tribes are only able to do this because of the
revenue generated from their casino revenues.
- The Muckleshoots built a brand
new clinic for their Tribal members using federal and gaming
- Muckleshoot built a 24,000
seat $4,000,000,000. out door amphitheater so they could bring
in first class entertainment near their casino.
- The Tribes also build new
Tribal Government and Natural Resouce buildings as well as purchase
much of the land back that was sold off from their reservation.
- Muckleshoot gives their members
a $.27 per gallon discount on their gas purchase at their new
Tribally owned gas station which was purchased with gaming revenues.
This is just a very brief overview
of some of the benefits that are available and have been provided
by Tribes, all a direct benefit from their gaming revenues.
When I worked for the Muckleshoot Tribe in 1994 they owned a
10,000 sq. ft Bingo Hall. Now they own a 124,000 sq ft
casino, new 4 story parking garage, amphitheater, two strip malls,
gas station, more of their Tribal land, and are negotiating to
purchase the Emerald Downs race Track. This has all come
from Gaming Revenues.
To further illustrate my comments concerning the Tribes in Washington,
I have attached an article from the Puget Sound Business Journal
that further illustrates the increased gaming dollar and how
big this industry has really become in the State of Washington.
Tribes hit the jackpot
Casinos bring in $770M
By Eric Engleman and Deirdre Gregg
Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle)
Updated: 8:00 p.m. ET July 11, 2004
Gaming revenue at the state's tribal casinos grew by more than
last year to $769.5 million, according to a new study by Los
economist Alan Meister of consulting firm Analysis Group Inc.
That's well above the average 12 percent growth rate for states
gaming and enough to put Washington into fifth place for the
Indian casinos, behind such heavy-hitters as California.
While Washington added only one new tribal gaming facility last
year -- the
Emerald Queen Cascades Casino & Resort on Interstate 5 in
Tacoma -- the
state's existing Indian casinos underwent significant expansion,
than 2,100 machines and 21 tables, the study found.
"Everyone's expanding that can expand," said John Weymer,
a spokesman for
the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, which built the new 450,000-square-foot
Emerald Queen complex.
Nationwide, tribal gaming has soared since the Indian Gaming
was passed in 1988. The act recognized the right of tribes to
gaming facilities on reservations as long they are located in
some form of legalized gambling. Tribal gaming revenue nationwide
by an annual average of 35 percent, adjusted for inflation.
Meister's study found that Indian casinos generated a whopping
in gaming revenue nationwide last year. Tribal gaming facilities
approximately 240,000 people and paid $7.9 billion in wages.
The biggest Indian gaming states by far were California and Connecticut,
which last year generated $4.2 billion and $2 billion in casino
respectively. They were followed by Minnesota ($1.4 billion),
billion), Wisconsin ($1 billion) and Michigan ($870 million).
Washington came in seventh with $769.5 million in overall tribal
revenue. The state had a total of 28 casinos operated by 21 tribes
Tribal gaming in Washington has exploded since Gov. Gary Locke
agreement allowing tribes to add electronic slot machines in
The number of electronic slot machines has grown from 468 in
May 1999 to
15,270 today, said Bob Whelan, senior project manager at ECONorthwest,
economic consulting firm based in Eugene, Ore.
The Muckleshoot Indian Casino near Auburn and the Squaxin Island
casino near Shelton were among the first to install the machines,
"A lot of casinos were losing money until they got electronic
devices," Whelan said.
Since then, Washington tribes have used their electronic slot
revenue to turn tribal casinos into vast entertainment complexes.
"It's only in the last couple of years that tribes have
had the wherewithal
to build hotels and lodging," Whelan said. "People
don't like to lend money
to casinos owned by tribes, because there's no collateral --
repossess tribal property."
Investments in nongaming amenities are now generating significant
well. Meister's study found the state's Indian casinos boosted
nongaming sources like hotels, restaurants, shopping, and concerts
than 17 percent last year to $83.6 million.
"That's definitely been the goal of many tribes: to diversify
and not become
solely dependent on gaming revenue," Meister said. With
destination, "people stay longer, spend more money, (and)
bring other people
who aren't interested in gaming," he said.
Nontribal minicasino owners in Washington, who have seen their
retreat with the rise of Indian gaming, are rallying behind a
ballot initiative from antitax activist Tim Eyman. The initiative,
will be on the ballot this November, would allow slot machines
installed in minicasinos, bowling alleys and bingo halls where
currently prohibited. Under Eyman's plan, the additional slot
generate $400 million a year in revenue, which would be used
to reduce the
state property tax levy.
Whatever the fate of Eyman's initiative, some analysts say the
Indian gaming in Washington isn't in danger of slowing down anytime
"There's a big amount of potential increase in gambling,"
said Whelan. The
current gaming market, he said, is "not even a third of
what it would be if
it were saturated."
Meister said the growing sophistication of Indian casinos, the
recession and the threat of terrorism have conspired to keep
closer to home, instead of traveling to Las Vegas and other gambling
That has been a boon to the tribal casinos.
"All things equal, casino patrons generally prefer a location
geographically closer to home," he wrote.
Not just the Tribes are benefiting from Gaming revenues, recently
Pennsylvania increased their gaming to generate more tax revenue
to reduce their property tax for the citizens of that state.
This is a recent excerpt from the New York Times:
Pennsylvania lawmakers enacted sweeping legislation yesterday
that authorizes as many as 61,000 slot machines - the most in
any state east of Nevada - for horse tracks, resorts and slot
parlors across the state, and will generate $1 billion a year,
officials say, for reducing taxes.
Pennsylvania officials estimate that within three years, slot
machines in 14
locations will pour $1 billion a year into the state budget for
local property taxes around the state and income taxes in Philadelphia.
Some revenue will be used for economic development programs.
State officials contend homeowners in communities that agree
in a new tax-relief program will see their property taxes, which
public schools, fall by an average of about $330 a year.
Mr. Rendell had to overcome stiff opposition from conservatives,
groups and government watchdog organizations who argued that
gambling would increase corruption, crime and social problems
like gambling addiction and
Slot machines now account for about three-quarters of casino
nationwide. Critics argue the entrancing machines take
advantage of older,
less sophisticated and poorer people. But gambling proponents
studies show that many slot players are relatively well educated
This article indicates the
new attitude of many states towards the Gaming industry and some
realize it is not a question of "Is gaming here to stay"
but how can the states support their budgets with the increasing
Keep in mind that I am not advocating that every community in
Alaska consider putting in casinos because quite frankly a casino
in many of the cities and rural villages just would not work
or be profitable. I was recently in Ketchikan and heard
things like, "well the tourists off the tour ships will
support the casino especially in Southeast". This
of course is a shoot from the hip assessment of gaming without
any real knowledge of the industry. I tried to discourage
this attitude because people believe what they want to believe
and if this is said often enough it must be true but the current
tourist industry will not support a casino in Ketchikan or any
other community in S.E. Alaska. Keep in mind tourists are
in Alaska to see Alaska, if they wanted to see a casino they
could go almost anywhere in the lower 48 and visit a casino.
That is not to say that a different form of Tourism could not
be developed around the casino industry, it is just not the tour
I write this to give Alaskans something to ponder and think about
when I hear about the increase in taxes and tying the local economies
to one industry "the tour ships". As many Tribes
in the lower 48 have started to understand, you must diversify
your interests to create meaningful jobs for the citizens and
to improve and enhance their communities with other business
opportunities. Just think if Cape Fox had a casino and
filled their hotel and the other hotels in Ketchikan with out-of
-towners and or was able to build a convention center that could
bring in meetings every week. Would the downtown curio
and jewelry stores shut down during the winter months, would
the local restaurants close and/or slow down or would the taxi
and rental car business flourish in the difficult winter months,
would the shopping centers do a better business during the winter
months or would many of these business's stay open and provide
year round employment. I guess that is some of the questions
you should be asking yourselves when your state considers gaming.
Gaming is not the answer and may not even be the solution to
many individuals in the State but almost every other State in
these United States has come to realize that gaming is not going
away and may not be the cure-all for State budget woes but it
certainly is one of the steps toward economic problem solving.
I would encourage the Corporations, Alaskans and Alaska to take
a very long and objective look at Gaming in the United States
and see that it has improved the quality of life for many people
and is no longer the dark card room of the old pioneer bar, or
the quiet and secluded games of the fraternal clubs but instead
are usually first class environments that are run by entrepreneurs
that understand this entertainment industry.
If this is published in the sitnews, I'm sure to hear comments
about crime and the associated tearing of the moral fiber, which
in general are not true and are a by product of a long ago history
of gaming and the movies. I will review all the comments
and attempt to address the issues.
Just a short background about
I was born in Ketchikan and was a former Chairman of the Ketchikan
I ran Three Tribal Casinos in the State of Washington the Noocksack,
Skokomish, and Puyallup casinos. I helped the Muckleshoot
casino walk through the administrative process in this state
and Washington D.C. for starting up their casino operation.
I have provided consulting services for other Tribal and
non-Tribal casinos in the State of Washington. I have owned
and Managed two of the mini-casinos in the State of Washington
and I currently am an owner and manage the Highway 9 Casino in
Lake Stevens, WA USA
Note: Comments published
on Viewpoints are the opinions of the writer
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.
Post a Comment -------View Comments
Submit an Opinion - Letter
Stories In The News