Future of tribal gaming on the G2E agenda

October 4, 2023 9:27 PM
Photo: Indian Gaming Association
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
October 4, 2023 9:27 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports

Tribal gaming will be featured as part of 18 educational sessions next week at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas on issues ranging from tribes acquiring commercial properties to court cases shaping their future.

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Six of the 18 sessions cross over to include gaming in general, but the conference jumps right into tribal issues at 9 a.m. Monday with the session “The Next Era of Tribal Gaming: Politics, Policies, & Opportunities.” It will feature Victor Rocha, conference chairman of the Indian Gaming Association (IGA); Erica Pinto, chairwoman of the Jamul Indian Village of California; Holly Cook Macarro, a member of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe and a tribal advocate and political strategist; and David Bean, vice-chairman of the Indian Gaming Association (IGA).

On Monday, Indigenous People’s Day, tribal leaders will celebrate the influential roles women play in tribal gaming, business, and politics as part of a keynote on the main stage. The discussion will highlight the strength and leadership of these trailblazers, underscoring their pivotal contributions to indigenous communities, the gaming industry, and beyond.

IGA Chairman Ernie Stevens will moderate the panel that includes Stephanie Bryan, chair of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Alabama; Melanie Benjamin, chief executive and chair of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians in Minnesota; and Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians.

Bryan, whose tribes owns the Wind Creek Bethlehem casino in Pennsylvania and Wind Creek Chicago Southland, will be part of another session, “Tribal Crossover: Success with Commercial Entities,” which also includes Sheila Morago, CEO and partner with the Trilogy Group; Ray Pineault, president and CEO of Mohegan Sun gaming, which operates the gaming floor at the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas; and Erin Copeland, chief legal and compliance officer of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians of California that owns the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.

On Tuesday will be an overview of the Seminole Tribe and sports betting in Florida that’s been impacted by the court system and opposition from commercial interests. The discussion will explore the court’s reinstatement of the Seminole compact with the state, its potential to transform Florida’s gaming landscape, and possible ripple effects on other Native American tribes and future legal challenges.

Rocha, Stevens, and Jason Giles, IGA executive director, appeared together on a podcast Wednesday to discuss G2E.

“It’s been really eventful in Washington, D.C., with the government lately, but thankfully the government is remaining open (with a shutdown averted by Congress) and some of our federal speakers will show up,” Giles said. “There’s a lot of good content this year on the regulatory landscape, preparing for a new regulatory environment, and the repercussions of the Seminole court decision and how that will play out in the federal agencies.”

Giles said their focus in Washington has been on the regulatory side, given what’s happening with the dysfunction of Congress. The odds of Congress dealing with a reduction in slot taxes and sports wagering as part of a budget resolution are slim, he said.

“It’s out the window,” Giles said. “We’ve been playing this game for two or three years now, trying to work with the AGA (American Gaming Association) to get those onerous provisions off the gambling industry. It’s not going to happen, so our battle is at the regulatory level.”

Last year’s backdrop at G2E was commercial entities leading the way with a ballot measure to bring mobile sports wagering to California, a measure that after spending hundreds of millions of dollars was soundly defeated. Animosity among tribes was visible at the conference when commercial operators said they would continue to bring up the issue.

“The amazing thing is no matter how many times we do these shows, it’s always something new,” Rocha said.

Rocha rattled off some of the sessions, including focusing on tribes venturing into commercial gaming in Las Vegas and elsewhere.

“I think that’s the future of tribal gaming,” Rocha said. “It’s important that the tribes are out there competing. What Poarch Creek did in Illinois by going toe to toe with some of the biggest names in the industry and still winning a license is a very important lesson on what you can and need to do to win these competitive races.”

The podcast raised the issue of commercial gaming interests trying to encroach on tribal sovereignty and panelists said tribes won’t back down from what they called misinformation from lawmakers and regulators.

“We’re ready to have a nice intellectual discussion with any of these folks, most of whom are professional and polite, though some are ignorant and condescending and send in their subliminal attacks,” Stevens said. “Those people are a smaller percentage, but we can deal with those, because we’re above that and smarter than that.”

Stevens said while Native American Month in November is a place to educate the world about who tribes, G2E offers the same opportunity for people to understand sovereignty and the good that tribes do for tribal members and non-tribal members alike.

“I do my best to be a gentleman, but sometimes you have to take those folks on,” Stevens said. “It’s always in a good and respectful way, but we never take a step backward as we deal with ignorance and misinformation.”

Giles said with commercial gaming doing well in the U.S., it’s a good time to talk with those operators. He cited the latest gaming numbers in Nevada that continue to show all-time or monthly records and consumers continuing to spend despite concerns about inflation.

“FanDuel just announced that they will be adding their new online casino to their app,” Rocha said. “They’re making a very aggressive move to capture the future of gaming. It’s no surprise to anyone. What happened in California with the election is just that the tribes weren’t going to be rolled over by these guys.”