Native American Gambling

Gambling games are looked upon very differently from one culture to the next. In Protestant and Catholic cultures, gambling is seen as a sinful vice, associated with other illicit activities.

In Native American cultures, however, gambling is an ancient tradition associated with noble virtues such as intelligence, concentration, acuity, strategic thinking, leadership, resource management, discipline, spiritual development, and good sportsmanship.

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It is then no wonder that a nation indigenous to the Joker Gaming coast of northern California had a village in one part of their territory that was devoted to the art and science of traditional gambling games much like a college or seminary for gamblers. While not every NDN (sic) Nation set up such institutions, most had some sort of tradition for wagering bets on games of skill and games of chance.

Gambling is still a part of Native American traditional life. Celebrations and even sacred rituals such as healing ceremonies will often include gambling, after the prayers are done and the feast is shared.

Since tribally owned casinos provide massive economic stimuli for impoverished Native populations, challenging the rights of tribes to own and run their own casinos is also a way of keeping Native people in devastating poverty. An example of the difference between owning a casino and not owning one can be seen when comparing two bands of the same tribe. One band in Oklahoma, has no casino within their jurisdiction. The other band of the same tribe, in Kansas, has their own casino. Laws differ from state to state.

The band in Kansas used the revenues from the casino to build schools, buy a regulation school bus, and most importantly, to build a desperately needed health clinic. The Oklahoma band of the same tribe has none of these facilities because they lack the casino generated revenue necessary to build and maintain them, let alone staff them. Casino revenues also provide the capital loans for tribal members to start small businesses.

A series of court cases and legislative acts in the 1980’s set a precedent for Native gaming rights and regulation. These historic landmarks include: Seminole Tribe vs. Butterworth (1979), California vs. Cabazon Band (1987), and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988. However, these gains have been repeatedly challenged by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), in an ongoing campaign to weaken Native sovereignty and to confiscate or divert Native gaming revenues.

As on-line gambling websites redefine the concept of territory in cyberspace, Native American gaming rights and issues of sovereignty, freedom, and self determination are once again at “stake” (pun intended). Will you wager a bet on the future of Native American gambling, as it evolves with modern technology, and a global economy?

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