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Indian casinos took in $18.5b in '04, industry group says

Nevada resorts saw $9.88b in gaming revenue

WASHINGTON -- Indian gambling pulled in $18.5 billion in 2004, nearly double the take for Nevada's gambling industry.

The 10 percent increase extended more than a decade of double-digit growth for the nation's Indian casinos, which have mushroomed since Congress passed a law creating the legal framework for them in 1988.

There now are 411 Indian casinos in the United States, operated by 223 tribes in 28 states. More than half the 341 federally recognized Indian tribes in the continental United States operate casinos.

Because tribes are sovereign nations, they don't have to pay state or local taxes and are exempt from most zoning and other laws, a special status that can cause conflict with neighbors. Tribal casinos have encountered opposition from some local communities concerning the increase in traffic or the strain on resources.

To head off opposition, tribal leaders have grown more aggressive about asserting benefits. National Indian Gaming Association officials said yesterday that tribal gambling has directly or indirectly created 553,000 jobs, mostly for non-Indians, and that it generated $5.5 billion in federal taxes in 2004.

Tribal leaders say gambling has allowed them to lift their reservations out of poverty.

"We had to overcome insurmountable odds to turn our economy around. We looked to casino gaming as a way to do that," said Dee Pigsley, chairwoman of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz, which has a casino in Oregon. "No other development could return the kind of profits that a casino could offer."

Major Nevada resorts took in $9.88 billion in gambling revenue in the 2004 fiscal year. Overall, revenue at Nevada resorts, including from hotels and restaurants, was $19.59 billion in 2004. That figure for Indian casinos was $21 billion.

"We are creating economic activity that benefits our communities and surrounding communities," said Mark Van Norman, executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association.

Connecticut's two casinos grossed more than $2 billion in 2004. Mohegan Sun, run by the Mohegan Tribe, earned a record $1.3 billion for fiscal year 2004, a 6 percent increase from 2003, said spokesman Saverio Mancini.

Industry specialists estimated that the Mashantucket Pequot tribe's Foxwoods Resort Casino, which releases only slot revenue figures, made more than $1 billion last year.

The Pequots announced yesterday that the tribe had given $2 billion in slot revenues to the state since January 1993, a year after it opened Foxwoods. Under an agreement with Connecticut, both casinos are required to pay the state 25 percent of their slot machine revenues.

Tribal officials said the biggest casino growth areas are California and New York. California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has sought to tap tribal casino revenue to close the state's budget deficit, while New York's governor, George E. Pataki, wants to bring five Indian casinos to the Catskills as part of a deal to settle tribal land claims.

The growth of the casino industry has been "completely unexpected and spectacular," said I. Nelson Rose, who teaches gambling law at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, Calif.

He and other specialists predict it could continue at the same level for some time.

"At a certain point it may level off because we'll have more of the tribes built out," Van Norman said. "But we're still seeing tribes that are looking to develop new projects."

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