A lot of people have said we ought to start casinos up here and make a lot of money. But that’s a myth. Lower 48 Indians own more than 450 of them and most haven’t made the piles of money everyone thinks they do. In fact, a few of the biggest ones, like Foxwood in Mashantucket, Conn., are in debt up to their ears.
In 2012, Foxwood owed $2 billion after two decades of grand success. Tribal members of the Mashantucket-Pequot number just over a 1,000 Indians and for twenty years each adult got up to $100,000 a year. But that’s gone now.
It’s unclear how Foxwoods is doing now amid reports that they’re in the hole and still on the top five list. Who knows, they may have pulled out of the debtors pile.
So casinos in Alaska are but a pipe dream that will likely not ever happen. One of the problems is that all of the casinos in the Lower 48 are on reservation lands. And in most cases are in the middle or close to huge population centers. Alaska has but one Indian reservation where a casino might happen. That reservation is Metlakatla in Southeast Alaska. Most people don’t know where it is.
Some tribes have seen success while others have not. There are five tribes that are the richest in the nation and nearly all their wealth comes from casinos. At number five is the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians in California. They own the Pechanga Resort and Casino in the Temecula Valley in Southern California about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego.
California brings in more revenue from Native American casinos than any other state in the United States, by a wide margin. In fact, based on the latest data available, California sees nearly twice as much Native American gaming revenue as the next most profitable state.
At number four is the Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino, owned and operated by the Mohegan tribe of Connecticut. It’s an entire entertainment destination that includes three casinos, more than forty dining and drinking locales including restaurants, bars, and lounges, a 10,000-seat arena, a more intimate concert venue called the Wolf Den, a comedy club, and two high-end hotel towers.
At number three is the Mashantucket Pequots, also in Connecticut. The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe has a complex history. It originated on and around the oldest Native American reservation in the United States. In addition to Foxwoods, which started as a bingo hall in 1986, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe now owns and operates a number of successful hospitality and entertainment properties.
Number two on the list is the Seminole tribe of Florida. The Seminole tribe is incredibly widespread, with six reservations throughout the state. Their properties stretch as far north as Tampa and as far south as Hollywood, including areas in Brighton, Fort Pierce, Big Cypress, and Immokalee. Today’s Seminole Tribe of Florida includes descendants of Native Americans from a number of areas throughout the Southeastern United States, including Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, and primarily Florida.
At number one is the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux of Minnesota. They own the impressively large Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, the largest entertainment complex in the state of Minnesota, in fact, as well as a smaller venue called the Little Six Casino – a perfect destination for people who want a more intimate, low-key setting.
As successful as these casinos are, the tribe also owns and operates many other enterprises, including event centers, golf courses, hotels, shopping centers, environmental support facilities, etc. This diversified list has brought fame and fortune to the Shakopee Mdewakanton people, who were reported to be making $1 million per tribal member in recent years.
Some ideologists have scorned casino wealth saying it increases dependency among tribal members while others say it’s a good thing. My thought on that is anytime a tribe can make a lot of money for its members, who for the most part have lived in poverty forever, it’s a good deal. Other than that I’m not going into that arena and make a big deal out of it.
Most of the Indian casinos in the Lower 48 just break even, making enough to get by and pay the bills. So for those of us who have notions about casinos in Alaska might as well put it aside and be happy that we have a few bingo halls.
The Yelp website lists the top bingo seven parlors in Alaska with number eight being at Little Diomede, Alaska where one can see Russia from their living room window.
No, I don’t think casinos will ever become reality in Alaska. But it’s nice to daydream a little bit but that’s all it is – a daydream.
John Tetpon, Inupiaq, is a longtime Alaska journalist, musician and artist. His email: firstname.lastname@example.org