Tribal gaming industry sees modest growth to $28.5B in 2014

Jonodev O. Chaudhuri, the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission announces the 2014 tribal casino revenues at a press conference in Washington, D.C., on July 23, 2015. Photo by Andrew Bahl for Indianz.Com

Tribes in California and Oklahoma see largest gains
By Andrew Bahl
Indianz.Com Staff Writer

Tribal casinos generated $28.5 billion in revenues in 2014, marking the fifth straight year of growth in the industry, the National Indian Gaming Commission announced on Thursday.

Jonodev O. Chaudhuri, the new chairman of the agency, released the figures a day after his first appearance before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. He carried on a theme from that hearing, calling the growth in the industry a sign of strong regulation.

“Stability comes from solid operations, strong tribal management and effective regulation by the Indian gaming’s regulatory community," Chaudhuri said at a press conference at NIGC's headquarters in Washington, D.C. "Sound regulation preserves public confidence, protects tribal assets and promotes a safe and fair environment for all people who interact with the industry.”

The revenues from 2014 represent a 1.4 percent increase from 2013. That was a larger growth rate than the 0.5 percent seen in 2013 but smaller than the 2.7 percent seen in 2012.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: National Indian Gaming Commission Announcement of 2014 Indian gaming revenues

Some regions of Indian Country, though, surpassed the national growth rate. With revenues of $7.3 billion from 68 facilities, tribes in California and northern Nevada saw a 4.4 percent increase in 2014, according to the NIGC.

The largest growth, though, occurred among tribes in western Oklahoma and Texas. They saw revenues of $2.0 billion from 65 facilities, which represented a 7.5 percent increase, the NIGC said.

Chaudhuri declined to speculate on the source of those gains. But he noted that both regions saw an increase in the number of gaming facilities in 2014 -- two new ones in California/northern Nevada and five new ones in western Oklahoma/Texas.

He also said tribes in those regions appear to be relying more on Class II games. Although not as lucrative as Class III devices like slot machines, tribes often see a greater return on Class II investments and they don't have to share revenues with states.

The Chickasaw Nation owns and operates the WinStar World Casino and Resort, in Thackerville, Oklahoma. The facility is the largest in Oklahoma and the largest in the U.S. in terms of gaming space. Photo from Facebook

Casinos in rural areas are driving growth as well, Chaudhuri said. These types of facilities represent almost 60 percent of all tribal operations nationwide and they create jobs and generate revenues in communities with fewer economic development options.

"One of the hallmarks of Indian gaming is that it is truly an American success story," Chaudhuri said.

Chaudhuri, a member of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma, first joined the NIGC in September 2013 after a stint at the Interior Department. He took on the role of acting chairman but became the official leader of the agency after winning confirmation from the Senate in April.

The new chairman took some heat on Capitol Hill on Wednesday in light of a recent Government Accountability Office report that questioned the effectiveness of some of the initiatives that NIGC has undertaken during the Obama administration. Lawmakers also noted that the agency is down to just one member following the departure of the only other commissioner at the end of May.

2014 gross gaming revenues in Indian Country. The Oklahoma City and Sacramento regions saw the largest percentage gains. The Tulsa region showed modest growth while the Portland and Washington, D.C., regions were essentially flat. The St. Paul and Phoenix regions were the only ones that saw declines. Image from NIGC

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 anticipates a regulatory body of three members -- a chairman, a vice chairman and an association commissioner. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is working to appoint two more members to serve with Chaudhuri, NIGC staff said after the press conference.

“For five years there has been consistent, stable growth in the industry, Chaudhuri noted. "I credit the day-to-day regulators on the ground, as well as the work that we do here."

Committee Notice:
Oversight Hearing on "Safeguarding the Integrity of Indian Gaming" (July 22, 2015)

Government Accountability Office Report:
Regulation and Oversight by the Federal Government, States, and Tribes (June 3, 2015)

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