The ‘R’ Word

The Washington Redskins organizations has been deluged with pleas to change its name because of its perceived racial slur. Current management has resisted that change. Why should it matter to gaming? Observer Richard Schuetz says the spread of legal sports betting could be the final straw.

The ‘R’ Word

Sacagawea made great sacrifices that changed American history. When anyone speaks her name, it should be with great respect. @RepMattGaetz‘s comments are offensive & hurtful. I invite him to meet w/ me so I can share how such comments are a continuing assault on indigenous people.Congresswoman Deb Haaland in a Tweet, January 5, 2019

“If I save one life, make a change in one life, it’ll be worth it.”
Abe Pollin, after dropping the name Bullets from the NBA’s Washington Franchise, the team he owned.

In 1991, I left the world of being a casino executive on the Las Vegas Strip to join Lyle Berman in Minnesota at Grand Casinos, Inc. Within a few short years the company was the largest tribal gaming management company in the United States. It also was a life-changing event in that working in the tribal sector was a fundamentally different life experience than working within the commercial gaming sector.

Our first project at Grand was with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota. At the time we met the tribe, it was in a socio-economic crisis. More than 65 percent of the tribal population existed below federally established poverty levels. Drug abuse, alcoholism, and associated social ills were plaguing the tribe. The life expectancy for males was tragically low, brought on by drugs, alcohol, making bad decisions while on drugs and alcohol, and a limited access to healthcare. After the introduction of the Grand Casino Mille Lacs all of these dismal statistics began to change immediately, and to change for the better.

On a personal level this period of my life also introduced a whole new perspective on casino gaming. In Las Vegas, the business seemed to be all about making money, whereas in the tribal world there seemed to be much more to it. It was clear and unequivocal that we were materially improving the quality of life for a population of people that we knew little about.

I could speak for days as to what I did not understand about the tribes located across the U.S. I once gave a talk at the Executive Development Program during Bill Eadington’s leadership of that event that was entitled “A Stupid College Educated White Boy,” and the theme was all that I did not understand about the tribal story and experience. One aspect of that story was clear, however, and it was that the invaders from across the pond had treated the tribal peoples in the U.S. horrendously, and this across the pond group were the very folks who would later become the established government of the land.

In 1996, I moved away from Minnesota, returning to Las Vegas, where I took over as president and CEO of the struggling Stratosphere Tower, and I somewhat lost touch with the tribal world.

That changed in 2011, however, when Governor Brown of California named me to the California Gambling Control Commission. This brought me back into direct contact with the tribal nations, for California has 109 federally recognized tribes and the largest tribal population of any state in the nation.

In my earlier experiences with the tribes, my involvement had been primarily with the Midwest and Southern tribal nations. While the treatment of these peoples had been horrendous, the California history was a more depressing story. The very large population of tribal people in California had been decimated by the Spanish with the introduction of missions throughout the state, for this program brought disease, murder, and mistreatment to the native peoples. This was later followed by the invasion by a great many people associated with the California Gold Rush. If the miners found tribal people on land that the miners wanted, they would often run them off or murder the tribal people and stake a claim on the land. During this period there are also stories of tribal people being hunted for sport. If one wants to find a tragic genocidal effort to feel bad about, one does not need to look outside of the borders of the United States to meet this goal.

Things have improved for the tribes, to a degree. A percentage of tribal members and governments have benefitted from the casino experience; an experience that has allowed them to provide politicians with money, and this is an important step toward being considered relevant in the United States. But systemic discrimination still exists, I would argue, for I saw it as recently as when I was a gaming regulator in California. There was in California this myth that all tribal people were blessed with great wealth from the casino experience, a totally nonsensical and real example of fake news. There was also this notion that certain high-level politicians seemed to believe the tribes had made enough, and that extra-legal efforts needed to be undertaken to allow card clubs to grow and thrive. This crime persists.

Whenever there is a group that suffers widespread discrimination, there is also language used by the oppressors that formalizes and memorializes that discrimination. This language becomes important because it helps degrade the people it is aimed at and with the tribal people in the U.S. this word is the “R” word. No matter what one knows about the tribal experience in the United States, it should be clear that the “R” word is clearly unacceptable to many. It is a racial slur, and for one to deny that is to go against what a massive number of individuals and organizations have argued over the last few decades. If a person can use a dictionary they can quickly discover that the term is offensive and disparaging—period. To support the position that the term has not become derogatory is to argue that our dictionaries are wrong—so not only would we now have fake news, but we would also have fake dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary.

The states of California, New Jersey, Minnesota, and New York have formally passed resolutions based on the “R” word being objectionable. The ACLU and the NAACP have joined in, as have numerous other human rights groups. Religious groups across the spectrum have also condemned the use of the word and many television, sport, and media personalities and institutions refuse to use the term. Tony Dungy, the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl will not utter the term, and this is true of so many others from the sports world such as Mike Holmgren, Richard Sherman, Marv Levy, Phil Jackson and a list that contains hundreds of names.

The hometown paper of the Washington NFL franchise has written numerous editorials against the use of the name, and will not use the name in its editorials. Hundreds of newspapers across the U.S. have editorialized against the use of the term, and many refuse to use it.

Needless to say, tribal group after tribal group has rejected the term, and found it objectionable. It should be added that white people have embarked on efforts to convince other white people that the term is not objectionable, yet there is an absence of an organic tribal effort to encourage the use of the term. One would be wise to look back in time to when white people have attempted to convince people that a racial slur such as the “N” word was not a racial slur, that segregation was cool, and that white folks knew best about these things.

“The poster child for the use of the “R” word is the National Football League’s Washington franchise. This entity is now owned by Daniel Snyder, a man who it is being suggested refused to hire University of Nevada standout Colin Kaepernick because Snyder was afraid it would upset many of the Republican politicians in Washington and he wants to look to this group to facilitate the construction and funding of an enormous new stadium and commercial development in this fine city, for after all, what more does DC need to invest in than a football stadium for a billionaire? While Snyder has no issues with recently signing to the team an individual accused of domestic abuse, Kaepernick is apparently a persona non grata. Snyder even hired Mark Sanchez join the team rather than sign Kaepernick, and at this stage of his career Mark Sanchez is only slightly better than securing a random homeless person to play quarterback. As ThinkProgress suggested, Snyder was planning on getting a rider on an appropriations bill for his new stadium and commercial development and he needed Republican support—support he believed would not be forthcoming if he signed Kaepernick. The NFL must be proud to have an owner who will put his financial gain ahead of fielding a good team; albeit the NFL probably has 31 owners just like him. And let’s not neglect the recent personnel changes in the NFL referred to as Black Monday, when five of the NFL’s seven black coaches were fired.

Snyder and his racial insensitivities fit in well with his Washington NFL franchise. He is following in the footsteps of those ahead of him. This team was the last to integrate in the NFL, finally doing so in 1962, and this was not because of any wakeup call with there being something wrong with the practice of not allowing black players on the team. During the time that Washington was practicing segregation the majority of the population in DC was black, and yet team ownership argued against integration because they were the South’s team, and they did not want to upset the team’s Southern racist fans.

The Washington team was quite bad and as a result it often had early draft picks, but they even passed on arguably the best player in all of football, Jim Brown, so that they could select a white player. And why did they integrate? Because they came to understand that discriminating against black players was bad? Hardly. They integrated because President Kennedy had his Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall, tell the ownership of the Washington franchise that if they did not hire a black player then they could not play in their new stadium that was located on federal land. After a one-year delay, the Washington team relented and drafted a black player. It was about this same time, ironically, that the Las Vegas Strip was integrated and so was no longer referred to as the “Mississippi of the West.” So the casinos on the Las Vegas Strip and the Washington NFL franchise have that in common – they practiced blatant and overt discrimination beyond 1960.

The casino companies in Las Vegas have another thing in common with the NFL’s Washington franchise, that being the use of the “R” word. Allow me to explain:

When the Supreme Court announced its decision on May 14, 2018 that declared that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act unconstitutional, the “R” word was set to take on new life, for sports betting was about to explode, and betting on the NFL is a huge betting segment in the U.S. market. That means many new casinos environments will be offering sports wagering, and associated apps, and it appears that NFL sports wagering implies that the “R” word must be used.

At least two prominent U.S. gaming institutions will be using the “R” word with a materially increased frequency and these are MGM and Caesars. Through their new betting environments and their betting apps, both will broadcast the “R” word millions of times a year throughout many states and across many communication verticals.

MGM recently announced that it is working to expand its betting products into the tribal world, and have even begun working with TFA Capital Partners as a strategic partner, and company that has assembled a tribal advisory board. One wonders if the MGM’s use of the “R” word will affect its ability to penetrate the tribal sector, and if TFA plans on working to install MGM betting apps and sports books that use the “R” word on tribal lands and projects. One also wonders if the MGM will entertain its prospective tribal partners at the MGM National Harbor Club on the owner’s level of the stadium used for Washington’s NFL games?

Caesars also has its cross to bear. This company has many existing tribal partnerships. Will these tribal partners be pleased with their greatly increased dissemination and use of the “R” word brought about by their partner?

The American Gaming Association has pushed hard to increase its tribal membership over the recent history of the organization. It will be interesting to see how it positions itself in the “R” word expansion. Will it side with its tribal partners or will they help advance the use of this disparaging term? The tribal partners might play close attention to see if they are an organic part of the AGA, or just there to pay dues.

The tribes will also be tested by this discussion for can their earlier protestations on the use of the term go away for a bit of additional money?

When the Las Vegas Strip became integrated in the early 1960s, it was not because the white men who ran the casinos thought this was the right thing to do. This action was brought about by people outside of the industry proper, including Governor Grant Sawyer and Gaming Control Board Chairman Ed Olsen. I would argue not to expect the white men who run the casino industry today to do much of anything about the massive proliferation of the use of the “R” word in all of the uses brought on by the spread of sports wagering. In fact, I would expect them to participate in greatly expanding the use of this term as they market sports wagering to new legal jurisdictions and their patrons.

Some things never change, and expect the white owners and operators of the nation’s casino companies to maintain the practice of both broadcasting this disparaging term, greatly expanding its incidence, and do little to stop it. Rather than helping to assist their tribal partners to eliminate this offensive term from modern usage, they may end up working to normalize it.

Articles by Author: Richard Schuetz

Richard Schuetz started dealing blackjack for Bill Harrah 47 years ago, and has traveled the world as a casino executive, educator and regulator. He is sincerely appreciative of the help he received from his friends and colleagues throughout the gaming world in developing this article, understanding that any and all errors are his own.