FROM PLYMOUTH TO FOXWOODS: How American Indians Acquired A $27 Billion Casino Business

indian casino

Photo: Graphic by Gus Lubin

In 1621 the Wampanoag Nation provided food for British pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving.Last week — 390 years later — the state of Massachussets voted to give the Wampanoag Nation a licence to operate a casino.

This reversal is indicative of the historical trend. The Native American Nations have entered the casino business, operating with special rights on the margins of society.

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The Indian Gaming industry claimed $26.5 billion in revenue in 2010. This staggering figure represents three quarters of all casino revenue in the U.S.

Indian tribes operate nearly all the casinos outside of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Not only that, many of them are bigger than the biggest casinos in Vegas, like Connecticut’s Foxwoods Resort, which has its own MGM Grand.

Some come complete with 18-hole golf courses, high-end shopping centres, or outdoor ice skating rinks. The biggest ones have over 6,000 slot machines and nearly 100 different poker tables.

There are now over 400 casinos operated by more than 200 tribes throughout the U.S., and the number of casinos opening is still growing. The Midwest is home to many of them, but the biggest ones are scattered throughout the nation.

Gambling has always been a part of Indian culture. Although it often consisted of betting on winners of games, much like today's sports betting.

A 1972 Supreme Court victory over mistaken property taxes found that states are NOT allowed to regulate Indian reservation activities. This set the stage.

After that, Indians began promoting bingo games for jackpots in Florida and California.

In 1988, Congress allowed full-on Indian casinos to operate if tribes made a Tribal-State compact.

Now gaming has become the biggest source of revenue and employment for many Indian tribes.

Foxwoods in Ledyard, CT is often considered the biggest casino in the U.S thanks to all of its slot machines and table games.

Casino size: 344,000 square feet
Slot machines:
Tables: 372

Source: Casino City's Gaming Directory

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe opened Foxwoods in 1992. But, they've been living out Southeast Connecticut for over 10,000 years.

Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT is a popular escape for Chinese gamblers. The facility is separated in to three areas -- Sky, Earth, and Wind.

Casino size: 350,000 square feet
Slot machines: 6,405
Tables: 337

Source: Casino City's Gaming Directory

The Mohegan Tribe along with the Pequots of Foxwoods provide the state of Connecticut with over $4 billion in gaming revenue.

Island Resort & Casino in Harris, MI offers guests a golf course in addition to slots and poker.

Casino size: 408,520 square feet
Slot machines:
Tables: 50

Source: Casino City's Gaming Directory

The Hannahville Indian Community owns the Islands Resort & Casino. They are a part of the Potawatomi Reservation and refused to leave Michigan in 1834.

Jackpot Junction Casino Hotel in Morton, MN also boasts its own golf course, the Dacotah Ridge Golf Club.

Casino size: 440,000 square feet
Slot machines:
Tables: 50

Source: Casino City's Gaming Directory

The Lower Sioux Indian Community who own Jackpot Junction are from the Minnesota River Valley. They are a part of the Mdewakanton Band of Dakota.

San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highland, CA opened in 1986. Its bingo room accommodates over 2,500 players.

Casino size: 480,000 square feet
Slot machines:
Tables: 80

Source: Casino City's Gaming Directory

The San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians were once a group of quality basket weavers. Now, the casino provides over 3,000 jobs to people in the area.

Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee, WI is by far the biggest Indian casino in terms of area.

Casino size: 780,000 square feet
Slot machines: 3,117
Tables: 109

Source: Casino City's Gaming Directory

The Potawatomi Tribe first opened the place as a bingo casino in 1991, but eventually added the whole works of slots and tables.

It's no surprise that people are getting out of Las Vegas these days.

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