Tribal Leader Roundtable: Gaming and Legislation – Indian Gaming

This month, three tribal leaders discuss the benefits of gaming revenues for their tribe and the surrounding community; goals and initiatives they have for their gaming enterprises; and legislative/political issues of interest or concern. Here is what they had to say…

Doreen Blaker, President
Keweenaw Bay Indian Community

Ojibwa Casino Marquette – Marquette, MI; Ojibwa Casino Baraga – Baraga, MI /

BENEFITS OF GAMING: The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) chose to invest its gaming revenues in governmental services geared towards improving our tribal members’ lives on and around the reservation. Before casino revenue, I can remember a time when our health services would almost shut down due to lack of funding, and employment opportunities for tribal members were very limited. Gaming revenues have allowed our services to expand in healthcare, education, law enforcement, and to protect and preserve our natural resources. Gaming has increased our employment opportunities and we are one of the largest employers in our county. The tribe contributes to our surrounding counties through our two percent payments and donations that have totaled over a million dollars throughout the years that our casinos have been open.

GOALS & INITIATIVES: The KBIC gaming enterprises are located in the western half of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is a less populated area, but the beauty of our natural surroundings makes it a great location to visit and spend time in. Our goal is to offer customers an enjoyable gaming experience and stay in an area that has retained much of its natural beauty. We have an RV park that will be completed this August at our Marquette casino and will open in time for people to stay and enjoy the fall colors of our area. We continue to recover from the pandemic, which hampered our ability to open our new event center and restaurant, and this has now become a short-term goal. Future plans for our Marquette facility will be to add a motel.   

LEGISLATIVE: Our tribe has moved towards a proactive stance regarding issues that may affect or endanger our ability to live and prosper. Like many other tribes, we oversee our domestic relations, economic development, and growth through tribal laws and regulations. We feel there is strength in numbers and belong to various organizations that advocate for tribal interests. Our Council stays abreast of areas of concern that could affect us directly, and we strive to address them through proper dialogue with our local, state, and federal representatives.

Anthony Roberts, Chairman
Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation

Cache Creek Casino Resort – Brooks, CA /

BENEFITS OF GAMING: Tribal gaming has enabled us to create a strong government, protect our culture, provide for our people, and become a major philanthropic force in our region and beyond. In the last 30 years, gaming has helped our leaders build our community, setting a solid foundation for many successful tribal government programs for our people and resilient business enterprises for future generations.

As Patwin people, we prioritize the protection of our cultural sites and honor traditions that teach respect for the environment. We consider our Patwin language to be the beating heart of our tribal identity and crucial to the survival of our culture. With the help of our elders, we have revitalized our language and are now teaching it to our youth. We recently published a Patwin dictionary, grammar book and app.

We established our first tribal giving program, the Community Fund, in 2000. In 2016, we created Doyuti T’uhkama, which means “to give the acorn” in our Patwinlanguage. These two programs have partnered with hundreds of non-profit groups, gifting over $100 million to worthy causes.

Our gaming facility, Cache Creek Casino Resort (CCCR), combined with our government offices, is vital to the regional economy, generating an annual economic and fiscal impact of $1 billion in output and 3,475 jobs (full-time employees). Our resort includes the largest hotel in the region, with 659 rooms. It offers premier gaming, spas, and a golf course that has hosted professional tournaments. In 2023, CCCR was recognized as one of “America’s Greatest Workplaces for Women” by Newsweek.

GOALS & INITIATIVES: We have the great fortune of a growing, flourishing community whose numbers have increased steadily for many years. With this comes the immediate need for new housing and facilities to house our people and long-term planning to build amenities for all ages, from playgrounds to walking trails to installing major infrastructure to meet the energy, water, and internet connectivity needs of our children and future generations.

Our homeland of the Capay Valley continues to grow as a destination for agricultural tourism. Our role has been to expand our land holdings and increase our extensive agricultural lands, which now produce 14 crops. Our Séka Hills brand includes olive oil, wines, and other agricultural products, many of which can be sampled at our tasting room.

LEGISLATIVE: The tribe is always looking for any proposed federal and state legislation that could erode tribal sovereignty. Yocha Dehe is a leader in working with government officials to protect tribal lands and establish co-management practices incorporating traditional ecological knowledge, such as cultural burns. We have worked extensively with local and federal legislators to protect Molok Luyuk (Condor Ridge), a vital cultural landscape within traditional Patwin territory.

In addition to supporting sports wagering in tribal casinos, we have led efforts to combat illegal gaming in cardrooms. Cardrooms infringe on tribal gaming and have cost us tens of millions of dollars that could have gone to providing critical government services to our people.

Robert H. Smith, Chairman
Pala Band of Mission Indians

Pala Casino – Pala, CA /

BENEFITS OF GAMING: Gaming revenues have been instrumental in shaping the economy of both the Pala Band of Mission Indians and our surrounding community. These revenues have provided essential funding for education, healthcare, housing, and infrastructure development within our tribe. We’ve been able to invest in various community programs and initiatives, such as our historic partnership between the Pala Fire Department and the California Office of Emergency Services. Our gaming enterprise has also created employment opportunities, contributing to the overall prosperity of the region. Additionally, our revenues have enabled us to offer assistance in achieving higher education. For too many Native Americans, a college education is either a crippling burden or a seemingly unattainable dream. We commit ourselves to making education more accessible by seeking out new funding sources and expanding our educational programs at all levels. We continually try to empower individuals within our tribe and neighboring communities to pursue their educational and entrepreneurial aspirations. By reinvesting a significant portion of our gaming revenues back into the community, we’re enhancing the quality of life for our tribal members and for our neighbors.

GOALS & INITIATIVES: Our primary initiative is to continue to develop, create, and expand new tribal business enterprises that will ensure the sustainable growth and diversification of our tribal economy. We continuously seek out new avenues for tribal enterprise development, such as gaming, entertainment, and real estate. We are also committed to preserving our cultural heritage and promoting tribal sovereignty through education and advocacy efforts. To achieve this, we’re focusing on initiatives that promote economic self-sufficiency and environmental stewardship. For example, our Pala Environmental Department includes programs for air and water quality monitoring, wildlife and habitat conservation and restoration, and protection of cultural and archaeological sites, among others. Overall, we hope to continue investing in sustainable business practices and prioritizing initiatives that align with our long-term vision for tribal development. By embracing innovative approaches to enterprise management, we aim to position the Pala Band of Mission Indians as a leader in both the tribal gaming industry and sustainable economic development.  
LEGISLATIVE: We closely monitor legislative developments at both the state and federal levels to safeguard our tribal interests and ensure that our rights are protected. We actively engage with policymakers to advocate for policies that promote economic development, environmental stewardship, and social justice for Native communities, such as our continuous advocacy for missing and murdered Indigenous people. We have also come together with other tribes as one body to fight for our water rights, address tribes’ water needs, and help tribes develop and use their water appropriately. Additionally, we believe the future of healthcare for Native Indians is intertwined with policy decisions at the federal level, and we pay close attention to this in order to provide a full range of health services to our tribal members. Through proactive engagement, legal advocacy, and community action, we strive to address any challenges that may arise while preserving the rights and interests of the Pala Band of Mission Indians for generations to come.

Written By

Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation