As a member of the advisory board of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) and as a person whose career in gaming, specifically tribal gaming, spans more than three decades. It has been my privilege to combine my work in the success of gaming in Indian Country with intentional thought on a healthy approach to gaming.
The National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) reports that tribal gaming revenue for fiscal year (FY) 2022 was the highest in Indian gaming history. Seven of NIGC’s eight regions showed an increase over FY 2021. The overall FY 2022 gross gaming revenue (GGR) increase was $1.9 billion, about 5 percent higher than the historic FY 2021 GGR of $39 billion, as operations emerged from the pandemic. This success is an illustration of the resilience of tribal gaming as an industry and of its leadership.
With all this growth comes great responsibility. Although gaming came to tribes as a means of economic development and a resource for self-reliance, it has also brought additional challenges, such as increases in addiction among tribal members and their neighbors. The socio- aspect of the socio-economic impact or benefit has varied definitions. It is incumbent on us as stewards of this industry to be deliberate in our actions in this regard.
Since the earliest days of tribal gaming, tribes have been keenly aware of the need to address responsible gaming and the potential of its impacts. Tribal gaming was held to a different standard in its onset, with fears of our ability to manage gaming, concerns that it would be fraught with bad actors and the potential for negative impacts. None of those came to light.
Instead, at its inception, and to this day, tribes have always engaged in efforts to bring awareness and reduce problem gambling and to help people who struggle with it. Responsible gaming language in many states was incorporated by tribes as a part of their compacts.
As our industry scales larger and larger, so too do the issues created by problem gambling; therefore, our efforts and responsibility have grown. There have been a series of commonly accepted practices regarding responsible gaming, including self-exclusion policies, in-house awareness training, posting of hotline numbers and signage within the property to bring focus to the issue. These practices have elevated awareness and access to services for those with gambling addiction beyond any point in past years of gaming, simply by being made more available.
Now with the expansion of sports betting and mobile gaming in the tribal gaming space, the technology increases access and the potential for elevation in addiction. Leaders in all aspects of the industry have an opportunity to learn from the practices that faltered in the past and address them within our market segments. We can use that same technology to intercede and interject when gaming habits rise to concerning levels. On a parallel path, the practices for addressing responsible gaming and treating problem gaming need to consider the treatment for tribal citizens.
It is important, particularly when exploring complex topics like this one, to be mindful of the important distinctions between tribal gaming and commercial gaming. The latter certainly offers employment to thousands but is primarily concentrated on the profitability of shareholders, individuals who are not identified with their community and culture.
Tribal gaming also employs a significant number of people, both of tribal and non-tribal descent. However, its earnings benefit the members of its communities and the neighbors where it operates. Tribes operate casinos and other entertainment venues in the same towns where tribal citizens live. Revenues from gaming are used to build roads, bridges and other infrastructure, support education, fund medical care and contribute to nonprofits with the aim of elevating the quality of life for all the people in the area. For many living in rural parts of the United States, tribal gaming facilities and ancillary businesses offer excellent employment opportunities, allowing people to support their families and enjoy productive careers without leaving the small-town life they love. Yet a perplexing disconnect between this kind of community benefit and how the industry attempts to help heal tribal citizens with problem gambling, or other addiction illnesses, still exists.
Tribal citizens are of particular concern for two reasons. First, tribal members already have a higher-than-average propensity to develop addictions. Second, commonly adopted treatment modalities do not take into account the unique complexities that define “healing” in tribal communities. It is time to take action from the countless research efforts and address this distinction and give support and credit to the Tribal healers and clinicians from the dollars allocated to problem gambling.
For many tribal citizens, healing involves the body, mind and spirit. Traditional healers and medicines are a beneficial and necessary part of a successful treatment plan, yet there is an obvious missing opportunity within the gaming industry: Tribal gaming compacts require that funds be earmarked and paid to responsible gaming efforts, yet those traditional healers are not recognized as authorized treatment clinics and compacted funds cannot be allocated to them. Instead, tribal citizens facing issues like problem gambling are “square-pegged” into healing modalities misaligned with how they actually heal.
When gaming resides within your community, it is the community that needs to help to heal its members with a prescription consisting of an individualized combination of respect restoration, stability of resources, community acceptance and traditional healing.
It’s my hope that awareness of such “glitches in the matrix” will lead to action, and that encouraging action will lead to even better stewardship. Each of us has a role to play and, no matter how small, each role is important.