Gambling proprietors in Alabama have been trying to pass off their slot machines (prohibited under state law) as a form of bingo (legal in some counties). Gov. Bob Riley is trying to stop them with a special task force and mostly successful lawsuits. Warnings of impending raids have recently forced the shutdown of several giant bingo farms that siphon off hundreds of millions of dollars a year from customers.
The gambling industry is fighting back with a barrage of TV ads lampooning the governor and calling for a statewide referendum to legalize gambling. Naturally, this would be done on terms favorable to the big establishments, protecting them from competition.
One of the industry’s favorite tactics is to portray Riley as a pawn of the Mississippi Choctaws, whose casinos lure customers from Alabama. The ads imply, without actually saying so, that Riley is trying to kill off Alabama bingo farms because they would compete with established Choctaw casinos. The inference is that Riley must have taken bribes from the Indians. Continue reading →
Native America calls attention to a Montana survey of “Indian country” tourists that found only slight interest in gambling, but strong interest in museums, historic landmarks, and opportunities to learn about tribal history and culture. Tourists also complained of a lack of up-to-date information about reasons to visit reservations.
Alabama’s only federally recognized tribe, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, has been buying up a few historic Creek townsites — places that have been neglected since the forced removal of most of the Creeks in the 1830s. But the tribe is also pursuing gambling, and this is the side of their economic development strategy that has attracted the most attention — and resistance. In the past month the tribe responded with image-building commercials on Alabama TV (timed with the legislative session, apparently).
The Montana survey found that only 18 percent of tourists who now visit reservations were interested in gambling at an Indian establishment, while 62 percent disagreed strongly with the idea. Among tourists who do not visit Indian reservations, 6 percent strongly agreed with Indian gambling, and 49 percent strongly disagreed.
Support for historic and cultural tourism was much stronger, with more than half of reservation visitors indicating a strong interest in learning about tribal history and culture.
Skeptics might suspect that the survey was designed to return an anti-gambling result. This is possible, and if I worked for the Poarch Band, I would find a copy of the survey and examine the details. (The Billings Gazette story is here.) But to my mind, the strength of the numbers suggests an authentic pattern. Even if the design of the survey should overestimate the anti-gambling majority, it seems likeliest that that majority exists. History and culture is likely to prove the most rewarding strategy for tourism development.
I have a strong bias, though. I’m a historian of the Creek Indians, and as such I’m completely convinced of their centrality to Alabama and southeastern history, and of the value of creating more opportunities for Alabamians to learn about Creek heritage. But I don’t know how widely my opinion is shared.