Indian Gaming Association Update

As we move into 2023, we celebrate the resurgence of Tribal Government gaming and, at the same time, continue to stay focused on the challenges ahead.

The rebound of the Indian gaming industry came as no surprise to those who live and work in Indian Country. The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted Native communities from both healthcare and economic perspectives. To address the health threat, Tribal Leaders employed a vision of putting their communities and people first, closing Indian gaming operations nationwide for a good portion of 2020. As we slowly reopened, Indian gaming operations implemented state of the industry standards, instituting strict testing, masking, and social distancing, combined with world-class regulation. Indian gaming revenues suffered a resulting 20 percent decrease that year.

This tireless and meticulous work built both trust and confidence in our operations and led to an incredible post-pandemic resurgence for Indian gaming nationwide. It was reported in August of 2022 that Indian gaming revenues topped $39 billion in 2021: an increase of 40 percent over 2020 and more than 13 percent over the record revenues generated in 2019.

The Tribal Government gaming industry’s comeback is a resounding affirmation of Indian Country’s resilience and the safety-first approach taken by Tribal leadership nationwide.

Today, more than 240 Tribal Governments have used Indian gaming to revive our communities. Indian gaming generates more than 300,000 jobs on Indian lands annually. Our operations serve as economic anchors for community development and entrepreneurship. Revenues generated from Indian gaming have worked to rebuild basic infrastructure and enhance the delivery of health, education, and public safety services to Indian Country.

The state of the Indian gaming industry is strong and growing stronger. But we cannot rest. We know more must be done to protect and strengthen tribal sovereignty.

We know that our Vote is our Voice, and the Indian Gaming Association again focused on getting Native America to the polls. In November, the Native vote again played a pivotal role in many razor-thin federal and state elections.

What is even more encouraging is the growing number of Native candidates. In 2022, the number of Native candidates grew to 140 for federal and state offices in the general election. While not every candidate won the election or reelection, Indian Country applauds their efforts to serve their communities. They elevate the visibility of all Native Americans and our issues.

American voters delivered a split decision in the 2022 midterm elections, with Democrats retaining control of the United States Senate and Republicans taking the U.S. House of Representatives. Each will have a narrow majority in the next Session of Congress.

The results of federal elections play an outsized role in the everyday lives of residents of Indian Country. Tribal governments rely on Congress to uphold solemn treaty and trust obligations and to protect tribal sovereignty and self-governance.

As we head into 2023, Indian Country will continue to unite in working with federal policymakers. From January through March of 2023, the Indian Gaming Association and our sister organizations hold legislative summits and impact weeks to discuss Indian Country’s policy priorities and challenges. We will use these gatherings as critical opportunities to meet with and educate the 84 new Members of Congress about Indian Country, our culture, and the federal government’s relationship and obligations to all Native Nations.

Ernie Stevens, Jr. 15 Articles
Ernie Stevens, Jr. is the Chairman and national spokesperson for the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) NIGA