NIGA Update – Fall 2021

Tribal Government Gaming – Committed to Meeting the Challenge

The summer months have come and gone, and as we approach the end of the year, Indian Country is continuing to work through the steepest health and economic challenges confronting us in generations. Previous pandemics are ingrained in our communities’ stories, and that history was reflected in our industry’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are molding our new normal, and we are continuing to meet the challenge with resilience and perseverance, because Tribal nations are showing their dedication to doing their part to defeat this pandemic. This is why reports show that Native Americans have a higher vaccination rate than any other major racial or ethnic group, serving as a model for broader vaccination efforts across the country. As the short history of this pandemic has shown, Tribal nations and our citizens are doing their part to combat this pandemic.

Throughout Indian Country, our Indian gaming industry has safely kept our doors open when appropriate. This is due to the strong commitment of our Tribal chairs, presidents, governors, Tribal gaming regulators and our gaming professionals, as well as so many team members willing to do the right thing and think safety first. Indian Country has made these tough decisions, putting community and family first from the very beginning of this global pandemic.

In July, as a testament to everything that Tribes have done nationwide, we successfully and safely reunited with our Indian gaming family at our Indian Gaming Tradeshow and Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada. The four-day gaming convention saw outstanding numbers, with almost 8,000 attendees at the overall event. Over 350 vendors represented, which resulted in $10 million of local economic impact.

We showed up and did the work, united in our efforts to bring our industry back after the pandemic stopped the world in its tracks, fully knowing that we have so much more work to do in order to rebuild and protect our future. We knew from our early 2020 revenue projections that Tribal gaming would be down by more than 50 percent. While the pandemic forced doors to close in March of 2020, upon reopening, Tribal gaming is rebounding faster than expected. Tribal gaming regulators continue to accomplish our bounce back with a safety-first approach, implementing the most stringent safeguards in the industry. What remained was the actual unknown depth of the economic impacts of the pandemic on our industry.

In August, the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) answered that question when it released the FY2020 Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) totals. The NIGC reported a 20 percent decrease from 2019’s record-setting revenue of $34.6 billion.

NIGC Chairman Sequoyah Simermeyer and Vice-Chair Jeannie Hovland announced revenues of $27.8 billion for 2020, a decrease of nearly seven billion dollars from 2019, not unexpected given the shutdowns that occurred during the year.

The NIGC noted that the significant investments in public health, workforce development and economic enterprise made by Tribes during the pandemic limited the pandemic’s economic impacts, providing stability for our operations and our community strength.

Compared to other industries that have yet to fully recover, $27.8 billion in Indian gaming revenues for 2020, during the worst pandemic of our lifetime, reflects the resilience of our industry. The report on Tribal gaming revenues for 2020 is an excellent affirmation of Indian Country’s unity and hard work during this pandemic.

The continued path back is also attributed to many, including our first responders, healthcare workers, police officers, teachers, and all who put their lives at the forefront of this pandemic recovery over these past 20 months. At the forefront of protecting our gaming industry is the many Indian gaming team members and regulators who stand firm in their commitment to keeping their gaming facilities and visitors safe – by taking all precautions, from taking temperatures to wiping down machines, and committing to doing everything possible within their means to build upon the economic growth of our industry.

Each day that we work through defeating this pandemic, continued diligence is essential, because we still have work ahead in order to finish this fight and place this deadly pandemic in its place in history. To get there, we must continue reaching out to everyone in our communities, encourage getting the vaccine and keep wearing that mask. Please do it for yourself, and do it to protect your family, friends and your community. Our commitment to perseverance will get us back to regular travel and meetings; I hope to see you soon!

Ernie Stevens, Jr. 8 Articles
Ernie Stevens, Jr. is the Chairman and national spokesperson for the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) NIGA