Political Hay

Casino Country

Partnership between bogus Indian tribes and craven pols is the name of the game.

By 6.20.03

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Indian gaming "benefits us all," say the industry's public relations flaks. An Indian gaming television advertisement running in California pictures a group of upstanding citizens in a barbershop enumerating its many civic blessings. Gambling lords are apparently the sturdiest pillars of a community.

Pols from both parties are loathe to challenge this obvious scam, lest they appear "anti-Indian." The result is a racket of staggering proportions.

Last year in California, where Indian tribes pay no state or local taxes on gaming, five new casinos opened, bringing the total to over 50. Indian gaming revenue is now in the ballpark of $4 billion. Much of this money flows to a small network of hucksters who live not on poverty-stricken reservations but in gilded mansions. And millions of these profits go back to the politicians who let these casinos clog and corrupt the state.

Time magazine reported last December the outrageous case of Maryann Martin. She is a Californian who formed a three-person "tribe" with her two brothers, then started up a casino last year by moving a trailer onto an old Indian reservation near Palm Springs. Martin discovered that her mother had been the last surviving member of the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians. This not only allowed her to start up a casino but also qualify for federal aid. "In 1999 and 2000 alone, government audit reports show, she pulled in more than $1 million from Washington -- $476,000 for housing, $400,000 for tribal government and $146,000 for environmental programs," reports Time. The tribe soon consisted of one adult -- Maryann Martin -- after her drug-dealer brothers got shot.

Other tribes, not much bigger than Martin's, are also enjoying a windfall in California, according to Time: "Christmas came early [in 2002] for the 100 members of the Table Mountain Rancheria, who over Thanksgiving picked up bonus checks of $200,000 each as their share of the Table Mountain Casino's profits. That was in addition to the monthly stipend of $15,000 each member receives."

But what if you are an Indian without a tribe or a reservation? "No problem," reports Time. Politicians will create them for you. Time gives the example of California's "Lytton Band of Pomo Indians," a group descended from Indians who had disbanded in the 1960s so that they could sell off their reservation. In the 1980s, the group decided to become a tribe after hearing about the success of "high-stakes bingo halls in the state." It successfully "piggybacked" on an Indian lawsuit claiming the Federal Government had "improperly" terminated tribes in the 1960s. Once a tribe, they then looked to get land for a reservation. Not to live, of course, but to find an advantageous spot for a casino. A Philadelphia financier found land for them in the East Bay, a short drive from San Francisco. East Bay Democrat Congressman George Miller then did the rest: "The ranking Democrat on the House Resources Committee, Miller did what only a senior member of Congress could: he plugged a three-sentence amendment into an unrelated bill that gave the Lyttons their reservation."

Here is a new form of Indian reverence for land. How come the Pomo Indians don't want to live where their hallowed ancestors lived? Because they didn't have the sense to live near an interstate? Evidently, ancestral sites can be terribly inconvenient. The Upper Lake Band of Pomo Indians, reports Time, would like to move its reservation for this reason. It doesn't want to build its casino where its ancestors lived, because it is a two-hour drive from Sacramento.

Modern tribal chieftains, with their cell phones and Cadillacs (the Los Angeles Times reports that one chieftain of a Northern California tribe is a posh professor living near the Southern California coast), should give ethnologists a new avenue of study. They are certainly making political history. One California tribe, the San Miguel Band, managed to spend $519,403 per member on lobbying the state, reports Time. In his hour of need, Gray Davis is turning to the California Indian lobby -- which has already given him almost $2 million -- for cash to finance his anti-recall defense.

Indian gaming benefits us all? No, it just benefits a collection of pols and operators who have made a career out of separating fools from their money.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author of No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.