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Tribal Gaming revenues jump 4.4 percent, top $31bn in FY 2016

Tribal casinos across the United States generated a record $31.2 billion in gross gaming revenue for the fiscal year 2016, the National Indian Gaming Commission reported Monday afternoon.

The figure was a 4.4 percent jump over the 2015 fiscal year. The revenue numbers are a composite of 244 federally-recognized gaming tribes across 29 states.

Jonodev O. Chaudhuri, chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, lauded the growth in revenues as a result of self-determination policies and emphasized that gaming is a critical economic vehicle for tribes – one that provides jobs, economic development and revenues that help to fund infrastructure, public services and education.

“This is the highest GGR on record, and it reflects how well these principles of tribal self-determination work in Indian country,” Chaudhuri said.

“This of course is excellent news for so many tribal nations and local communities who rely on Indian gaming,” he continued. “However, it must always be remembered that not all tribes game, the majority of tribes that do have moderate operations and gaming revenue was never intended to supplant other programs and policies that further self-determination.”

The announcement comes 30 years after California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, the historic U.S. Supreme Court case that ruled that Indian tribes had the authority to conduct and regulate gaming on reservation lands.

That decision led to the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, the following year. IGRA codified the self-determination principle as it relates to gaming and laid the operational and regulatory foundation for the activity nationwide.

In a nod to gaming’s impact on rural and underserved communities, the NIGC emphasized that 57 percent of the total revenue came from small and mid-sized facilities that generated less than $25 million in revenue for the year.

“The majority of gaming revenue comes from smaller gaming tribes, often located in rural areas,” said Kathryn Isom-Clause, vice chair of the NIGC.

All seven of the NIGC’s administrative jurisdictions reported growth for the year. The top performing jurisdictions included the Sacramento region, which grew at a 6.3 percent clip; Oklahoma City, at 5.7 percent; Portland, at 5.1 percent; and Phoenix at 4.4 percent.

The only region to grow at a significantly lower clip than the overall figure was St. Paul, which grew at just 1.1 percent.

“The fact that there was a broad increase in GGR says at least two things: one is that there continues to be stable and steady growth in the Indian gaming industry that transcends geographic boundaries,” said Chaudhuri.

“Second, the connection between the strong regulatory structure of Indian gaming and a fair and predictable industry has yielded benefits on a national scale, so much so that the geographic benefits are pretty evenly-shared,” he continued.

Chaudhuri further emphasized that the success of Indian gaming over the past three decades is evidence that self-determination principles are working and shouldn’t be tinkered with in the future.

“There is no other driver that has been able to do what Indian gaming has done for Indian country,” he said. “The successes of Indian gaming since Cabazon prove that the foundational principles of federal law and policy should continue as goals for IGRA and all other laws that help to implement IGRA.”