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Jodi Rave: Montana tribes at bottom of gaming scale


"Tribes across the country have transformed once-depressed reservation economies into economic gold mines since the gaming act became law. Indian gaming revenue has exploded from $206 million in 1988 to $25.5 billion in 2006, according to an industry report released last week by Analysis Group, a national economic consulting firm.

The revenue figures include 228 tribes operating 423 casinos in 28 states.

The Analysis Group report shows California tribes account for $7.7 billion in gambling revenue in Indian Country, making small tribes there among the wealthiest in the nation and placing them at the top of the Indian gaming revenue scale.

Montana tribes are at the bottom, with total earnings of $15.4 million in 2006.

The vast difference in income has less to do with demographics and location than with a tribe's ability to meet market demand. The Blackfeet Nation and the Salish and Kootenai are both located along routes to one of the nation's busiest national parks. The Blackfeet Reservation borders Glacier National Park, which has some 2 million visitors each year.

Meanwhile, the Blackfeet economy languishes and per-capita income amounts to no more than $10,000 a year. Like the Salish and Kootenai, the Blackfeet's Class III options have been limited by the state of Montana, and tribal leaders have turned their attention to Class II games, which don't have to be negotiated with the state.

Under the 1988 law, a tribe and a state must have a negotiated compact before Class III gambling is allowed on a reservation, and that compact can limit the types and amount of gaming. Tribes can offer Class II gaming - bingo - without a state's approval.

Tribal gambling operations, then, are typically defined by who sits at the negotiating table for tribal-state gaming compacts."

Get the Story:
Jodi Rave: Indian gaming revenues languish in Montana (The Missoulian 7/1)