History of Native American Gambling

Lots of times when people think of gambling, they think about its stereotypical association with the Natives of the continental United States. Without the intention to propagate that stereotype or even less, be racist about the topic, this proud community does have deeper roots in gambling than most people might know about.

Gambling or, more appropriately, gaming is a tradition that these cultures held as leisure or entertainment, exactly how people today have leisure activities. The only difference is that time and the development of technology has changed what people do during their leisure time. Gaming is much, much older than anyone can imagine. It is natural and healthy. The Natives of the continental US certainly had some attention-grabbing games, and they would bet on these games. Let’s take a quick look at the history of Native US gambling.

A Brief History Lesson

inner1native20102014Gaming is an honorable part of the cultural history of Native American tribes. The Chumash tribe of the Santa Ynez Valley had, just like many other tribes, two types of games. They had games of skill and games of chance. They even had a special area on which the games were played called malamtepupi. One of their games of skill was called payas, or the Hoop and Pole game.

This game involved a hoop made from a willow twig wrapped in buckskin that was rolled along the ground in a straight line. The players would wait for the ring to roll by and attempt to throw a spear through the center of the hoop. One of their most popular games called tikauwich resembled contemporary field hockey; the consisted of two teams with sets of facing goal posts, and the teams would try to hit a wooden ball with shinny sticks through the goal. The people not playing would bet on the outcome of these games. Many of the other tribes had similar traditions, especially the gambling part.

The Dawn of Casinos

inner2native20102014In 1979, the Seminole tribe of Florida opened on their reservation, under the leadership of Howard Tommie, a high-stakes bingo locale now that in the early 1970’s a US Supreme Court decision ruled that states do not have the authority to either tax natives on reservations or regulate their activities. A legal battle ensued from opening day until the Seminole victory in court. From that point on, tribes began building bingo halls and casinos on their reservations.

In 1988, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which kept tribal sovereignty to create casino-like halls, but the states and Native Americans must be in tribal-State compacts and the federal government had the right to regulate them. This Act categorized the games into three classes.

  • Class I Gaming: defined as “traditional tribal gaming and social gaming” with no regulation outside the tribal government
  • Class II Gaming: defined as gambling played exclusively against other players and not the house i.e. bingo, poker, and other non-banked card games
  • Class III Gaming: defined as gambling played against a casino i.e. slots, roulette, blackjack, craps, and all forms of gaming that are not classes I or II

Positive Results

inner3native20102014This surge of Native American casinos has brought about great revenues for both the reservations and the communities. In 2005, annual revenues had reached over $22 billion, and Indian gaming accounted for approximately 25% of all the legal gambling receipts in the United States. These revenues, of course after contributing to the state government, were passed along to help the local communities to offset costs related to subsidiary effects of the gaming operations such transportation expansion and maintenance, electrical and sewage systems, and other forms of infrastructure.

Gambling, thus, has grabbed from the strong history of Native American gambling and metamorphosed it into an even stronger form of tourism and revenue for the tribes and reservations. This is, in my personal opinion, the least that they deserve for the rest of their tragic history. This is the new and proud tradition and may it never fail.

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