Gaming is a hot topic in tribal and political forums. Casinos provide important economic benefits to tribes but have not been without their legal, political and social controversy. So it is no wonder that gaming has been the focus of several books in the past few years.
One of the newest titles is The New Politics of Indian Gaming: The Rise of Reservation Interest Groups by Kenneth Hanson and Tracy Skopek (University of Nevada Press, 2011), an important collection of essays discussing the ways that Indian gaming is shaping the economics and politics of American Indian tribes. The Midwest Book Review calls it “an invaluable contribution to Native American studies shelves, examining how legalized gambling continues to transform tribal and national political discourse.”
Indian Gaming and Tribal Sovereignty: The Casino Compromise, by Steven Andrew Light and Kathryn R.L. Rand (University Press of Kansas, 2005), offers a more comprehensive analysis of the industry. The authors’ succinct delivery starts with gaming’s history and details the development of Indian law and policy.
“Most Americans seem to view Indian gaming as at best a fairly negotiated compromise that balances federal, state and tribal interests, or at worst an unfair advantage for tribes that compromise state economic or social well-being,” Light and Rand write. “Indians may move from an uneasy and frequently uneven compromise to a new ‘Casino Compromise’—one negotiated on a level playing field and characterized by mutual give and take between equals.”
Despite such statements, the book is well-balanced, with case references and opposing views presented within an objective format.
A good overview of the industry as a whole can be gleaned from Indian Gaming (Greenhaven Press, 2005), a quick read that is part of the imprint’s At Issue, Social Issues series. Although meant for young adult readers, this collection of opinion articles by journalists and tribal leaders is an insightful look at gaming’s roles in everything from tribal sovereignty to economics to actual gambling. In “Casinos Help Indians Achieve the American Dream,” J. David Tovey Jr. writes in describing the prejudices that Indians face in any business venture, “Organized crime really didn’t seem to frighten you, but organized Indians seem to.” In “Indian Gaming Offers a Therapeutic Escape to Many Senior Citizens,” Los Angeles Times staff writer Dave McKibben also puts anti-Indian stereotypes into perspective. The collection is good for students, researchers or anyone interested in understanding gaming-related social issues.
Other volumes focus on individual tribes. The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, for example, is the subject of several titles. Often the focus of media and political attention, and frequently described as the most powerful tribe in America, this small New England tribe and the Foxwoods Resort Casino have become representative of the best and worst in Indian gaming. Hitting the Jackpot: The Inside Story of The Richest Indian Tribe in History (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003) by Brett Duval Fromson, former staff writer for the Washington Post and Fortune, is a well-written historical account of the Mashantucket Pequots going back to the mid-1600s, much of it drawn from statements by tribal members and historians.
There is also Revenge of the Pequots: How a Small Native American Tribe Created the World’s Most Profitable Casino (University of Nebraska, 2001) by Kim Isaac Eisler, which is about how the Mashantucket Pequots fashioned itself into America’s richest tribe.
And then there are the Seminoles, stars of High Stakes: Florida Seminole Gaming and Sovereignty (Duke University Press Books, 2008). This highly readable account traces the tribe’s gaming journey from operating North America’s first tribal bingo hall in 1979 to today’s $600 million business.
Given the role that Indian gaming has played in the history and development of American Indian tribes and nations, it behooves Native members, students, tribal leaders and anyone working with tribes or casinos to become familiar with it. These books are a great introduction to a phenomenon that has shifted the fate of many tribes and the dynamics of tribal-state and federal relations.