|Why are there no casinos in the state?
Draft 1-11-08 Merculieff
If you ever travel in the “Lower 48”, you might notice billboards for Indian-owned gambling casinos alongside the highways in some states. Did you ever wonder why Alaska doesn’t have Native-owned casinos?
The simple reason is that, in order to be allowed to build and run a casino, Native tribes have to 1) own lands the government designates as within “Indian country,” governed by a sovereign tribe subject to the “superintendence” of the federal government, and 2) reside in a state which allows gambling. In Alaska, only one tribe currently meets the first criteria: Metlakatla in Southeast Alaska qualifies as having “Indian country” land (see question on reservations). However, to date, the State disallows gambling except for bingo and pulltabs under certain conditions.
Unlike reservation lands in the “Lower 48” states, all other Native lands – including Native corporation lands -- are not considered “Indian lands” and therefore can’t be used for casinos. This position was affirmed in court in the case Alaska vs. Native Village of Venetie in 1998. Under the Alaska Native Corporation Settlement Act (see section on ANCSA), Native corporations lands have the same status as private lands (“fee simple” ) owned by any citizen or corporation in Alaska; Native corporations own their lands outright, they are not “Indian lands.”
However, the state does allow limited gaming by non-profit organizations on behalf of charitable causes. Native corporations encompass both for-profit and non-profit organizations under the same umbrella. Like all other non-profit corporations in Alaska (Boy Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Club, etc.), Native non-profit corporations can obtain permits for bingo and pulltabs.
In the “Lower 48” states, Indian tribes built casinos largely because they are sure-fire magnets for investors and returns (whereas other endeavors, like hotels or restaurants, may not attract people onto reservations). Native Americans, as well as Alaska Natives, don’t all agree on the value of these gaming enterprises. Some, including more traditional Natives, many Christians, and others of a variety of beliefs and backgrounds criticize gaming as a social parasite, saying it exploits people, feeds off their addictions, takes food away from children and families, and fuels other addictions such as smoking and drinking alcohol. Supporters assert that the income generated from gaming can and is used for necessary goods like building homes, offering scholarships and grants, and food and fuel programs.
For the moment, Alaskans are not having to engage too vocally in this debate. However, if it surfaces in Alaska, how would you weigh in?
This piece could go under the question on tribal governments:
Tribes on “Indian lands” in the “Lower 48” do not have “fee simple” title to reservation lands, but they do exercise partial sovereignty over their lands as “dependent sovereigns”, which gives them some governing authority (including police, planning and zoning, conflict resolution through tribal courts, taxing authority, police powers, etc.) over activities taking place on their lands. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, in the U.S. Department of Interior, holds many of these lands in trust and must manage them for the benefit of the Indian tribe. Indian tribes in the “Lower 48” have been segregated onto reservations (often based on the poorest lands in the region, in terms of agriculture or mineral potential); by contrast, some Alaska Native corporations own lands with huge potential for income from mineral or other sources. No Native tribes in Alaska currently are permitted to exercise sovereignty over their lands except for the Metlakatla tribe, a fact which many in the Native community believe stems from the fear of certain groups, organizations, and politicians (who consistently oppose efforts to legitimize tribal sovereignty in Alaska) that believe that sovereignty would allow Native tribes to regulate non-Native commercial, sports hunting and fishing, and resource development activities on such Indian lands in ways detrimental to their interests. .