Tribal gambling dominates World Gaming Conference opening |

Tribal gambling dominates World Gaming Conference opening


LAS VEGAS (AP) – The growth of tribal gambling dominated Wednesday’s opening of the World Gaming Conference and Expo with a keynote speech by the National Indian Gaming Association chairman and the induction of a longtime tribal leader into the Gaming Hall of Fame.

Tribal gambling has ballooned into a $9.6 billion industry since 1988, when Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, said Ernest Stevens Jr., newly elected NIGA chairman. Despite the growth, tribal gambling revenue still makes up less than 10 percent of the total gambling industry and about two-thirds of the 561 federally recognized tribes don’t offer gambling.

”Only 198 tribes have gaming,” he said, adding many more tribes need the economic development opportunities that operating casinos provide. ”We have too many situations where tribes are not getting compacts.”

Stevens pointed to the battle in Oklahoma for a state agreement or compact that would allow tribal gambling on sovereign lands.

”We’re going to fight for their tribes,” he said. ”We will continue to assert the need for a compact in Oklahoma and the need for the government to comply with IGRA.”

The Absentee Shawnee Tribe and the Seminole Nation have requests pending with the state for a compact to operate slot machines, which are illegal in Oklahoma.

The tribes sued the state, claiming Oklahoma officials won’t negotiate – a violation of the IGRA. The state claims the tribes have not fully explained their intentions.

Richard Hill, former NIGA chairman and national spokesman, was first elected chairman in 1993. Under his leadership, NIGA membership grew by more than 100 percent to 168 tribes.

Stevens succeeded Hill as chairman in April.

Hill is credited with overseeing the development of the NIGA into a nationally recognized voice for tribal gambling and creating the NIGA Seminar Institute, which educates tribes on gambling industry issues.

”Rick kept the Native American community’s eyes on the ball,” Stevens said.

Hill, who also worked to initiate the development of national standards and policies for tribal gambling, described his Hall of Fame induction as humbling.

”We just did what we had to do,” he said. ”Receiving this award today is not an individual achievement, it’s a collective achievement.”

Other Hall of Fame members inducted since its inception in 1989 include casino developers and operators Terri Lanni, Steve Wynn, Donald Trump and Sam Boyd.

Approximately 18,000 attendees, including several thousand tribal nation delegates, and 500 exhibitors were expected for the 15th annual international conference which runs through Friday at the Sands Convention Center.

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