View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Indian Gaming Moves East

The Rocky reports this morning on an effort to designate certain land east of DIA as an Indian reservation and put up a casino there. In theory, this would be compensation for the Sand Creek massacre. I, like most Coloradoans in a poll cited, am sympathetic to the Indians, and would like to see them do well for themselves. But this plan needs to be carefully considered before we act out of guilt for a century-old injustice.

First, the tribes apparently would like to claim the whole northeast quarter of the state as compensation, and then trade it for this particular piece of high-value real estate. Secondly, there's the question of taxes and political influence. California has seen its Indian tribes go from being poor cousins to perhaps the single most powerful political influence in the state. They have been able not only to get prime real estate deignated "reservation land" for the purposes of development, but have also been able to use vague references to un-designated "religious sites" to exclude others from development. (Under such rules, the tribes are able, I'm not kidding here, to prevent development within, say, 10 miles of a religious site, which they don't need to designate until they want to. The potential abuse of such a system is blindingly obvious.)

Also, the poll cited creates a false equivalence between the rejected effort to put slots at racetracks, which would have generated revenue for the state at the expense of increasing gambling's availability, and the proposed Indian casino, constructed to benefit a tribe with no other visible means of support. Obviously people are going to be more sympathetic to Indians than to out-of-state corporations with no tie to the community.

Dan Weintraub at the Sacramento Bee has mentioned these abuses in the past. "Historic Tribal Land" could be used to include just about anything between the oceans. Before we start arbitrarily handing over real estate to Indian casinos, we need to make sure that we're not creating a political monster. One thing the Colorado Indians have going for them is that they actually seem to be real tribes, rather than faux concoctions created for the purpose of putting up a casino. It adds considerably to both the credibility and sympathy factors.

Constructive suggestions: 1) makes sure the casinos pay state taxes; 2) make sure the tribes are bound by campaign finance laws, including full disclosure; 3) don't let them offer more or different games from what towns can now vote to offer.

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