By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
There is an elephant in the room. He hasn’t been conspicuous because he isn’t moving around, breaking furniture or tipping over glasses and gravy boats…yet. The problem is that if you wait for an elephant to start doing that, he is going to tear up your house before you can get him stopped. The best you can hope for once the elephant starts moving is to mitigate the damage.
The Tribe has discussed, in government sessions, closed-door meetings and meetings at the water cooler that we must be ready for competition when it comes to our primary source of positive revenue, adult gaming. There are other enterprises of the Tribe that generate revenue and profit, but none even close to the casinos. It is the Tribe’s stand-out success story. Other municipalities, including state governments, are envious and even jealous of our enormous economic engine. Other municipalities are also benefitting greatly from the economic impact of the casinos as well.
One of the advantages that our tribal casino enterprises has enjoyed is a lack of competition. Geographically speaking, we have a monopoly on the type of business we do. While the states surrounding us have gaming, it is mostly limited to state lotteries and do not significantly impact the type of client our casinos attract. Being the “only game in town” has been the driving force in many successful businesses. If your establishment is the only place in town-county-state that sells widgets, then people have to come to you to get their widget fix. What are three primary keys to the success of any business? Location; location and location.
In a Nov. 18 posted article by Aaron Gould Sheinin of the Atlanta Journal Constitution (www.myajc.com, “Georgia lawmakers expected casino bill, fight over proceeds”), it is clear that the government of Georgia remains intent on considering the possibility of a casino, or casinos. In it, Sheinin states, “A bipartisan panel of Georgia state lawmakers on Friday agreed a casino bill will come before them in 2017, and they expect the fight to come down to the details, including how to spend the proceeds.”
State Senator Butch Miller said, “If we approve this and bring casino gambling or pari-mutuel betting or both, we have to get it right the first time.”
We have seen Georgia lawmakers approach the possibility of casino gaming in the past. And, with each approach, the state gets closer to a workable solution to those objecting to gambling. It is not a matter of if they will come to an agreement on adult gaming, it is a matter of when. When they do, it could have significant impact negative impact on our revenue stream, and our way of life.
We are very dependent on casino income. Some might say almost totally. Hundreds of jobs, municipal building projects and social programs depend on gaming dollars. We must look at ways to mitigate the damage that state or third party casinos in other states will have on our operations, both from a gaming and a tribal economy perspective. We cannot afford a “head in the sand” mentality, and we need proactive leadership with regard to guarding our gaming assets while developing much needed alternative revenue streams to supplement any losses of gaming revenue that a competitive operation might precipitate. It is unrealistic to think that Georgia is the only threat to gaming. Once one state or other municipality within our geographic client base implements gaming, others will follow. They only need to look to us to see the economic benefit of having a gaming operation.
The state-recognized Lumbee Tribe continues to push for federal recognition and, while the Lumbee claim to not be interested in casinos, it is only logical to assume that they would pursue adult gaming once they achieve that recognition. The Catawba Indian Nation, a federally-recognized tribe, has been under Bureau of Indian Affairs review since 2013 in their request for the right to conduct gaming on their trust property which includes lands in both North and South Carolina. There has been tribal (and media) activity on this movement as recently as early in 2016.
We, as a Tribe, must diversify financially. We must explore every avenue of opportunity and our leadership must give those charged with bringing opportunities to the table the resources necessary to accomplish the task. The recently approved work on a data center is one step in a positive direction, but there are many more opportunities on the table that are waiting to be explored. While we have unlimited opportunity, we are limited in the money we may expend and it is important to let those who we depend on as experts in economic development properly vet, recommend, and implement solutions.
We, as a community, must educate ourselves concerning balance when it comes to our needs and wants, and what it takes to sustain our needs and wants. We must understand that when we chose to use land that could support us financially for government or social centers, that we may be letting go of the only way to mitigate losses that outside gaming competition could bring. We have to find a balance between comfort and security.
Our Principal Chief, Vice Chief and Tribal Council have the weight of the future of the tribe on their shoulders. I know that line is dramatic, but it is accurate. Once an agreement between a casino owner/developer and a municipality within our geography is struck, the clock will be ticking on substantial impact to the Cherokee economy. What we do in the weeks and months ahead will have enormous impact on our economic sustainability in the years and generations to come. The elephant is in the room and he is eyeing our furniture.