Chairman Stevens moderating the “Tribal Gaming Roundtable” panel with Indian country leadership. Photo (L-R) Chairman Stevens, Bobby Soper, President and CEO of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, Brian Patterson, President of the United South East Tribes (USET) and Louis Manual, Chairman of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association.
Published October 7, 2016
LAS VEGAS – The American Indian Gaming Association (AGA) in partnership with the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) developed a strong tribal gaming educational track at the 2016 Global Gaming Expo (G2E), and one of the major highlights was the Tribal Leaders Roundtable on Tuesday, September 27 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center.
The “Tribal Gaming Roundtable,” panel moderated by NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr. with tribal leadership panelist that included Brian Patterson, President of the United South East Tribes (USET), Louis Manual, Chairman of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association and Bobby Soper, President and CEO, Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority took place to discuss some of the pressing issues Gaming Tribes are facing.
Stevens opened the panel by saying, “I am excited to be here. It is so powerful when you sit amongst the Indian gaming world and you look around to see so many from the Indian gaming regions represented in one room. I am excited about where this industry has come. From the days of educating and fighting for our right to Game to today, where we had a historical coming together of commercial and tribal gaming on the mainstage of G2E. It is an honor and a privilege for me to represent the Indian Gaming industry. Indian country walks side by side with the other players in the industry. We’ve come a long way in this industry and we are now the experts and are parallel with others in the industry.”
To begin the discussions of the panel about the tribal government gaming industry, Chairman Stevens started the panel discussions by asking about tribes pursing commercial gaming licensing and economic diversification by tribes.
Soper said, “Our tribe made a conscious decision many years ago that we wanted to pursue opportunities to diversify our economic base and one of those pursuits is to take our profits from gaming and invest them outside the reservation. Our first project in 2006 was our Casino [Mohegan Sun Pocono] in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania, and it exceeded expectations. Since that time we have expanded and have properties in Atlantic City, Louisiana, Washington State and will soon begin a project in Korea. We have successfully established partnerships with other tribes and now we want to diversify internationally.” He continued, “When you diversify commercially and have assets off the reservation, you generate greater creditability, and it allows you greater opportunities to continue to diversify.”
Patterson expanded upon Soper’s discussion and commended the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes as an excellent example of leadership in action. It amazes me that Indian Country has the strength, courage, and stamina to govern one of the most regulated industries there is. He continued, “We know that nearly every aspect of economic development is controlled in some way by the Federal Government. The Trust relationship must be modernized to overcome barriers. He explained that it would require a change in the Federal government mentality for tribes to create economic opportunities that will advance their tribes and be self-sufficient.”
Chairman Manuel told the crowd that “Gaming has provided us the opportunity to progress and diversify. I remember we used to have to choose which bills to pay and now we have built upon gaming with a golf course, airport, and a movie theater entertainment complex and a water treatment facility. So those opportunities are just examples of going beyond gaming.”
Stevens asked the panel to discuss issues surrounding dealing with Unions and the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act. “They think we are anti-union. But we are pro-sovereignty.”
Soper said, “Unions are a tough issue because it is an issue of sovereignty and it’s also a political issue, so you have the two competing interests. The more we can position it as an issue of sovereignty (self-governing authority), I think the more successful we are going to be. Once you start comprising the basic principles of sovereignty in any context, then you venture back to that slippery slope. It is very important to hold firm on these principals.”
President Patterson echoed, it is not necessarily that we are anti-union people, it is more in the sense that we are just self-determined in our course of action.” He talked about the results of self-determination at the Oneida Nation of New York and said that in FY 2015, the Oneida Nation of New York paid over $127 million dollars in wages to approximately 4, 446 employees, with employees paying more than $12 million dollars in federal payroll taxes and some $4.4 million in State taxes and the Nation has made upward of $4 million in matching contributions to employees 401K retirement accounts. He said, “The point I’m making is that the nation has done our best to take care of its workforce and their families. We are meeting their needs, we are taking care of their families, and they can build a sound career, and the tribe is self-sufficient in determining their own labor actions. Tribal Governments do act responsibly.”
Chairman Manuel spoke about the Ak-Chin Indian Community and agreed that it is about self-governance and self-determination. “We have to take care of our employees. We have to make sure we are not limited in our ability to develop our own policies and regulations, staying in line with the real meaning of sovereignty.”
The leadership panel rounded out the discussions giving final comments on the future of Indian Gaming and Indian Economic Diversification beyond gaming. Soper told the attendees that there is still a lot of work to do as it relates to the future of economic sustainability. “There is still the need to educate others about tribes. We have to preserve our economic base. Indian gaming is a powerhouse, and it is very important that we protect that. I think in the next decade or two, we are going to be more prominent as an industry.”
Patterson said, “There is a real strength in solidarity in Indian Country. We must remain solid and accountable to each other in unity. As we look at the tremendous benefit of Indian gaming, it is important that we continue to look at economic diversity, to build strong economic communities.”
Chairman Manuel also expressed the importance of unity. He said, “The key is that we need to work together and he stressed that we must always remember our future. We have fought so long for our gaming compacts so that we can remain self-sufficient. We must be careful with what we give away.”
Chairman Stevens concluded by saying, “Our work is never done. Too many Tribes are on the outside looking in, unable to take advantage of gaming because the market isn’t there. We have to create other economic opportunities for all Tribes. We must continue working with one another to further economic gains for all Tribes and we must be vigilant in the continued protection of Indian Gaming and Tribal Sovereignty.”