Tribal casinos fall short of expectations to curb poverty among Indians

Tucson – Fourteen years and hundreds of millions of dollars later, tribal casinos in Tucson have not met federal and state requirements to lift American Indians out of poverty and reduce their dependence on taxpayer money.

This despite the fact that this is what federal and state compacts that legalized Indian casinos called for.

The Pascua Yaqui government since 1997 has more than doubled its per-person spending of federal dollars, and aid to the Tohono O’odham Nation has been up nearly 10 percent in that time.

Among Yaquis, usage of food stamps hasn’t changed at 18 percent. It has fallen among O’odhams but is still at a 23 percent average.

Members using a health-care plan for indigents are up 27 percent among Yaquis and 13 percent among O’odhams over six years. Both tribes‘ unemployment rates are three to five times as high as Tucson’s.

„When you look at the needs of the nation, 14 years later, have we accomplished the things we wanted to accomplish?“ O’odham Chairman Ned Norris Jr. said. „We’ve got a long way to go yet.“

Tribes have not used casino money to replace outside aid. Rather, they have combined profits with taxpayer dollars to add services from youth centers to libraries they couldn’t afford on casino money alone.

Norris said the tribe won’t ask for less federal money because the federal government is obligated to care for Indians in payment „for taking our land.“

David Ramirez, a Pascua Yaqui councilman, said his tribe seeks as much federal grant money as possible to finance programs in combination with casino money. Tribal leaders say they are making progress but add that they need more time to reverse decades of poverty and neglect.