New year. New promises. New opportunities. The Indian gaming industry is ready to roll the dice that 2019 will bring bigger and better accomplishments than the year that Father Time just put to bed.
No one is looking forward to the optimistic expectations any more than the California Nations Indian Gaming Association. It represents 38 tribal governments that collectively make California the largest Indian gaming state, with total revenues that represent well over 20 percent of last year’s $32 billion-dollar national take.
According to 500Nations.com: “In 1987, California became the birthplace of Indian casinos when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled tribes could operate casinos outside of state jurisdiction where gambling was not prohibited. Nearly 70 percent of California’s 109 tribes have casinos that host in excess of 70,000 slot machines and over 2,000 table games—more than any other state.”
Keeping up with a fast-moving industry requires periodic refreshing to stay up with developments and ahead of the curve. The latest opportunity to do so is the 24th Annual Western Indian Gaming Conference and Trade Show, occurring February 4-7, at Harrah’s Resort Southern California in Valley Center.
Previous years, tribal leaders, casino operations managers, regulators, policy makers and industry professionals from across the country will gather to discuss issues facing the tribal government gaming industry. Topics covered will include internet gaming, sports betting and renewal of tribal state gaming compacts as well as state and federal regulatory issues.
Like most events of this nature, there will be back-to-back days of multiple educational tracks as well as time for social events such as a golf tournament, a bowling tournament, and an opportunity to mingle with trade show vendors.
“As one of the largest regional conferences that attracts several hundred attendees from within the tribal government gaming industry, WIGC offers an opportunity to learn from each other what the latest innovations are in tribal government gaming,” CNIGA Executive Director Susan Jensen says. “We carefully curate and select sessions and seminars on topics largely unique to the WIGC and tribal/legal/regulatory issues relating to tribes and gaming as well as public policy platforms on timely and topical subjects. For example, last year our conference included a gubernatorial candidate forum that included the eventual winner, Governor-elect Gavin Newsom.”
One of the larger items up for discussion this year involves wagering on sporting events. In May 2018, the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act that limited sports betting to states that had met a legalization deadline (Nevada, Oregon, Montana and Delaware). Now, all states can adopt their own laws regulating sports betting.
“While adding sports books isn’t expected to boost numbers significantly, tribes say it’s another source to deliver services to tribal members,” according to an Arizona Capitol Times report on sports betting potential for tribes having casinos.
Quoted in that story was Valerie Spicer, former director of the Arizona Gaming Association (now with the Trilogy Group consulting firm) who said: “It’s important for tribes that their position as sovereigns and their existing compacts within their states are recognized. There’s still a lot of work left to do.”
The February conference is presented by the non-profit agency of federally-recognized tribal governments founded in 1988 and is one way the organization “promotes, protects, and preserves the welfare and interests of Indian tribes through the development of policies and practices with respect to the conduct of gaming activities in Indian Country.”
While breakout session topics and speakers had not yet been announced at press time, they will be relevant to all attendees, like the 38-page California Tribal Gaming Impact Study by Beacon Economics that was presented at last year’s event.
In that study, researchers reported that “Tribal gaming and non-gaming activities have substantial impact on economic activity across all parts of California generating an estimated $7.8 billion in economic output statewide.”
Southern California casinos were lauded for generating a $4.4 billion regional impact while casinos in Northern California weighed in with a $3.2 billion impact. Casinos generated an additional $265.5 million in economic output due to spillover effects into areas of California outside their specific region.
“This economic output supported over 63,000 jobs for California residents. Tribal gaming operations statewide generated $1.8 billion in labor income for workers in the state (while) adding an estimated $5 billion in value to the 2014 economy of California.”
The Impact Study concluded: “Tribal gaming and gaming-related operations in California have clearly had a positive impact on quality of life statewide and community leaders have taken notice. In all, 60 percent of tribal community leaders surveyed claimed that gaming has been a positive for their local communities.”
If your calendar is already filled during the early February conference, an even larger gathering is scheduled for the beginning of April in San Diego, the 34th Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention—the largest gathering of casino executives and tribal leaders in the country.
According to marketing coordinator Ryan Lee, the April 1-4 show at the San Diego Convention Center, sponsored by the National Indian Gaming Association, is “a meeting place where the community gathers to learn, network, and exchange industry-specific ideas and a cultural celebration of success, strength, and self-reliance.”
NIGA’s specific focus this year brings special emphasis on “the needs and issues of small-to-medium-sized casinos.” In excess of 6,000 attendees are expected at the event, which also offers the wares and services of 350 exhibits spread out over 100,000 square feet of convention space. ♦