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A Look Inside the Business of American Indian Gaming

Roulette-wheelAmerican Indian gaming generates an estimated $26.2 billion in annual gaming revenues within the United States. The industry has seen a vast expansion over that last two decades encompassing 237 tribes in 28 states. The economic impact of American Indian gaming has given tribal nations the opportunity to rebuild their infrastructure and strengthen their culture after decades of destructive federal policies.

As an enrolled member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and chief financial officer/director of finance at Prairie Band Casino & Resort, I know first-hand that tribal nations have been limited with the economic development opportunities that reside within defined reservation boundaries. Therefore, the advent of Class II and Class III gaming operations on reservations presented a real opportunity for tribes to raise capital and strengthen their communities. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 stipulates that a tribal nation must have land in trust status prior to 1988, and complete a state compact with the state that they reside in to conduct Class III Gaming. Further, the state must already be involved in gaming, and in this case any major lottery qualifies a state.

Tribal nations are required to have an approved Revenue Allocation Plan for casino profits if they distribute Per Capita Payments. The Revenue Allocation Plan requires that, at a minimum, 52% of the profits be invested into infrastructure, economic development, education and the general welfare of the nation.

Tribal nations view gaming as the ability to exercise sovereignty, strengthen tribal traditions, language and culture. We have built relationships with Democrats and Republicans in order to create a respectful nation-to-nation relationship that allows us to maintain our sovereignty and self-determination.

Each tribal nation is a nation within a nation and has a federally recognized constitution. Typical tribal nations have seven elected officials who are referred to as tribal council members. These elected officials are in charge of the tribal government and laws. In fact, most tribal nations have their own judicial system. The tribal council must have a majority vote to approve decisions that are brought to the table. These decisions range from tribal government issues to economic development contracts.

The tribal council is held accountable by all enrolled members of their particular nation. To be an enrolled member of a tribal nation, you have to meet the blood requirements. Each tribal nation is different; some require the tribal members to possess 50% or more of heritage from that particular tribe. Others require that you are at least 25%, while some just require proof of direct lineage.

Generally, each tribal nation has a quarterly or annual general council meeting to discuss the business that the tribal council has conducted on their behalf. The general council meeting can only be attended if you are an enrolled tribal member of that tribe or you are specifically authorized by the authority of the tribal council.

More than 500 federally recognized tribes exist and less than half have gaming operations. Tribal nation reservations, without economic development, often are mistaken for third-world countries. Tribes with viable casinos have the opportunity to invest in the education of their children and the rebuilding of their culture.

The AICPA recently updated its Gaming Audit & Accounting Guide, which features new standards, guidance and practices, and delivers “how-to” guidance on handling audit and accounting issues common to entities in the gaming industry.

Dominic R. Ortiz, CPA, CGMA, CFO, Prairie Band Casino & Resort. Dominic completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Kansas obtaining his Master’s in Accounting and Information Systems. He joined the public accounting arena with Ernst & Young, LLP in Kansas City. Since then, Dominic has acquired more than 10 years of casino management experience. In 2012, he was chosen to be an at-large member of the AICPA governing Council and a board member of the Kansas Society of CPAs.

Roulette wheel image via Shutterstock

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