HomeCultureThe History of Tribal Business in the South

The History of Tribal Business in the South

One of the most “overlooked” features of the Southern states is how Native American history and culture have influenced modern-day life.

Native American tribes have been involved in and successful in business and commerce for a long time. Many people may not know this, but in the South, Native American-owned businesses are extremely common. Hotels, restaurants, shops: You name it, they do it. However, what Native American businesses in the U.S. are mainly known for are their entrepreneurial advancements in the gambling industry.

If you haven’t noticed by now, online slots and gambling websites are ripe with Native American tribal imagery. Take the slot machines at the casinos, various gambling website themes or gambling blogs. They all have at least some kind of a reference to tribal symbols like chefs, feathered hats, tomahawks and more. This is not a coincidence—gambling and Native Americans have a mutually beneficial relationship, as it’s one of the few industries tribes have extensively used to grow their involvement in business and generate more money for their communities and tribes.

American gamblers are fond of these tribal casinos, like the Coushatta Casino Resort, in Kinder, Louisiana, which is operated by the Chitimacha Tribe, as they offer a certain sense of aura about them. Upon examination, you’ll notice that in gambling, there’re a lot of recurring themes from ancient Egypt and Greece, and desert-themed games. Indian tribes are one of the many such themes that people are drawn to.

With the increased popularity and prevalence of online casinos, many Indian tribal-themed games started being made, and this has caused a certain level of frustration among the tribal gaming community. According to these communities, online casinos should not be allowed to make a profit from the games that are themed after them, as it’s part of their own sovereign land and culture. This is a fair point. However, foreign gaming websites, especially coming from Europe, were not very accustomed to how business was done in the U.S. concerning casinos, nor did they understand the level of respect that was being paid to local tribes.

Unfortunately, according to several European platforms, especially from the Spinia website, one of the most outspoken online casinos in this argument, there was no legal basis as to why the platforms could not use these games or take away some of the market shares. But due to negotiations between the two sides, an agreement was made that these European platforms would be allowed to make tribal-themed games as long as they did not provide them for the U.S. communities. Considering the goals of the European casinos, it’s safe to say that the tribes were the victors of this misunderstanding.

Rise of Tribal Gaming

Tribal casinos are located on the tribal land of the Native Americans in the United States, meaning that they are subjected to tribal sovereignty. According to data, in 2011 there were at least 460 gambling operations run by 240 tribes. With so many years having passed since then, these numbers are likely to have increased by now.

The accommodating circumstances that were a result due to these sovereignty laws were absolutely perfect to create a ripe environment for the maximum growth of the gaming scene. How did this environment come to be?

Before we talk about the major leaps that were a result of the government’s regulations and policies, it would be appropriate to mention the very first tribal gaming operation. It was in 1979 in Florida, where the Seminole Tribe constructed a bingo venue on their reservation land. The tribe wanted to have the venue open six days a week, which was not allowed by the regulations that were in place in Florida. According to the law, bingo venues were only allowed to operate twice a week. It’s also worth noting, that the venue was violating the maximum-allowed jackpot amount for bingo, which was $100. Due to these violations, the sheriff began arrests. The tribe sued the state, claiming that as a reservation, they should have their own sovereignty and right to conduct business on their own terms, thus beginning a long and drawn-out legal battle.

There were many developments between, major changes and progress started back in 1988, when Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), with the goal of setting rules and regulations for tribal gaming. This gave the tribes official permission to conduct gaming operations. The only requirement would be to cooperate with the terms and conditions that were negotiated with them and the state, which were more than reasonable.

According to IGRA, a tribe may only conduct gambling operations having entered into an agreement with the government, after which they’re allowed to operate on “Native American land.” IGRA defines Native American land as what is federally recognized as reservation land or other lands that are held in trust by the federal government for tribes.

With the government making everything fully legal and regulated, things became much simpler and, thus, the booming native gaming scene was born. Today, there are more than 565 officially registered and federally recognized tribal communities, of which 243 of them conduct gambling operations. In terms of the actual number, there are some 470 gambling establishments, which are operated in 29 of the U.S. states. The actual revenue from all of their gambling activity exceeds $32 billion, which is over 43 percent of all gambling revenue in the country.

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