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Native American Gaming Should Consider a Road Change25 August 2005
It's only fitting that Native American gaming is spreading like a forest fire in a drought. After all, even a cursory examination of Native American history will show why they richly deserve their place in the casino sun. No, this place has nothing to do with their getting their just desserts after generations of neglect and abuse, although that's very nice indeed. Rather it has to do with the triumph of history and the irony of the Divinity.
You see, Native Americans were not only the first people to populate the "new world," they were the first to populate it with - you guessed it! - casinos! Many tribes were famous for their gambling games, not the least among them the Lakota or Sioux. Recall, if you will, the movie Dances with Wolves, Kevin Costner's paean to the plains Indians, and the scene where Wind in His Hair tries to convince Lieutenant Dunbar to re-enter the tent during a night of partying. Dunbar objects by stating that he's already lost a rifle at his newfound friends' gambling games and that he's going home to sleep before he loses everything.
Native Americans were known to fish and hunt, trap and herd, doing these things hard, especially in summer to assure survival in the winter and then, when the damp and the cold came, Native Americans retreated to their "casinos" to play their games during the long dark nights when the only thing worth hunting was Lady Luck's favor. In this, they were not unlike their modern American cousins, who work hard and want to enjoy the fruits of their labor, those fruits often existing on the reels of slot machines.
It's no secret that three of the largest casinos in the world are on Native American soil, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut and Muckleshoot in the state of Washington. The number one casino in the West, outside of Las Vegas, is the Native American Isleta Casino in New Mexico. To say that Native American casinos are up and coming is an understatement. They have already arrived.
So much for the past and the present. What about the future?
Here Native American casinos face the Robert Frost dilemma of "two roads" diverging "in a wood." One road is well traveled; it's the road that Las Vegas and Atlantic City, owned by the big corporate giants, have trodden. The other road has been largely ignored, except by a few gaming pioneers.
The first road has seen consistent growth in the past and a steady flow of incoming players and money. But now the corporate philosophy currently creates that growth by eating the vitals of the very games that sustain their enterprises. To feed the hunger for sustained growth in a tough economic climate, the corporate casino giants have begun to cannibalize their games to squeeze ever more revenue from the players. They have also attempted to introduce games with higher house edges and faster speeds to lure people away from the better games.
Look at the sickly new blackjack games that have started to replace the healthy standbys and you'll see the wasting away of that game's future. Park Place Entertainment heralded the arrival of its 6/5 blackjack (traditional blackjack pays $7.50 for $5, not $6 for $5)) with giant billboards at the Paris in Las Vegas a couple of years ago, as if this were something to be proud of. Little Casino Royale chirruped about its liberal rules, which included hitting on soft 17 (a terrible rule for players). Press-agent pundits lauded the fact that "continuous shuffle machines" would give the players the increased action they craved, when in fact, by increasing the number of hands by approximately 20 percent, the casinos were hoping to extract an extra 15 to 20 percent from the players per hour!
There were other innovations, all decidedly player unfriendly, all decidedly put in place to make more money for the casinos. In fact, at the recent G2E (Global Gaming Expo) in Las Vegas one casino executive proudly stated that he had brought the 6/5 blackjack to his property and that in the next 10 years all the casino blackjack games would be 6/5.
So has this road of leeched games been successful since it took hold two years ago? Has the forest of 6/5, continuous shuffling, hit on soft 17 blackjack games been winners for the corporate brain trust? Not if the figures from the last two years are any indication. According to the gaming control board, Las Vegas blackjack is down 4.2 percent in fiscal 2003; which follows a decrease of 5.4 percent in fiscal 2002.
Casinos are saving money by eliminating people. The boxmen in craps are going the way of the dodo; floorpeople are about to be replaced by computer systems that track players' action and the people who used to make change for slot players are changing jobs as the new, coinless slots take center stage. The corporate casino properties are going to become a personnel-less wasteland. And, worst of all, in states such as Illinois, the government has its greedy hands out looking to take over the casinos when their 70 percent tax on gaming revenues and $5 per head entrance fees crush the life out of the casinos operating in the state. New Jersey even attempted to tax comps!
Which brings us full circle to Native Americans. Until now, Native American casinos have gone the road well traveled. They've hired Las Vegas and Atlantic City executives and structured their casino floors and games in imitation of the corporate giants.
But will this model sustain them in the future? Or should they look to the road less traveled? The road that Jack Binion, Steve Wynn, and a few others have blazed with great success; the road of good games, loose machines, generous comps and executives that don't just analyze the relationship of floor space to profit profile? In short, should Native American casinos model themselves on the "People Property Principle," to coin a phrase.
Despite the fact that Native Americans must "revenue share" with the governments of their states ("revenue share" is the euphemism that substitutes for the word "tax" since Native Americans can't be "taxed" by the government of most states), these "taxes" are nowhere near as debilitating as the taxes leveled at non-Native American casinos. In fact, often these "taxes" are only on the slot machines and not on the table games.
Since all Native American casinos can be considered "locals casinos" as opposed to "destination resorts," the building up of a steady clientele is a must and can be accomplished by offering the very best possible games -- especially at the tables! Instead of trying to soak the suckers, as the corporate model is now doing to keep their revenue streams flowing and their burdensome taxes at bay, Native American casinos can court the players by giving them the best games in the country.
Native American casinos can have their cake and eat it too. By creating gamblers who have a decent shot at winning on any given night, Native American casinos can also create players who look to put aside a nice portion of their discretionary income in order to play the games.
The more Las Vegas and other corporate towns go down the road they currently travel, the more Native American properties should consider an abrupt change to that other road in the wood. Why?
I'll let Robert Frost give the definitive answer to that:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
Native American casinos are at the fork. If they choose correctly, casino gambling on this continent will belong to them - just as it did in the past. And that will be "all the difference."
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at email@example.com.
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