Gaming certainly isn’t new to Native Americans. In fact, it’s been part of our culture since the beginning of time. The Chumash people had two types of games: games that required skill to play and games of chance. Our ancestors often gambled on the outcome of the games. Each village had a special area, called malamtepupi, where games were played.
The Hoop and Pole Game, or payas, involved a ring or hoop made from a willow twig wrapped in buckskin that was rolled along the ground in a straight line. The player waited for the ring to roll by and, at the proper time, would throw the spear, aiming for the center of the ring.
Peon, or 'alewsa, involved two teams of two or more players each. Each of the players of one team has one black and one white short stick or bone, which are hidden in their hands. The purpose of the game is to prevent the opponents from guessing which hand the white bone is in.
Shinny, or tikauwich, was one of the most popular team games played by the Chumash. The game required a square playing area of about 300 yards on a side. Each team had facing goal posts, and the players were armed with shinny sticks, much like hockey players. The object of the game was to put the small wooden ball through the opponent's goal post by striking the ball with great force.
In modern times, large-scale gaming sponsored by tribal governments started in the early 1980s. As state lotteries began to proliferate, several tribes in Florida and California began raising revenues by operating bingo games offering larger prizes than those allowed under state law. When the states threatened to close the operations, the tribes sued in federal court - Seminole Tribe vs. Butterworth (1979) and California vs. Cabazon Band (1987).
In both rulings, the courts said that if state law criminally prohibits a form of gambling, then the tribes within the state may not engage in that activity. However, if state law civilly regulates a form of gambling, then the tribes within the state may engage in that gaming free of state control. In essence, the courts formally recognized our right to conduct gaming operations on our own land as long as gaming such as bingo or "Las Vegas" nights are not criminally prohibited by the state.
In 1988, Congress formally recognized but limited the right of Native Americans to conduct gaming operations with the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). States lobbied vigorously for IGRA and for the compacting provisions over tribal objections. The IGRA requires tribes to negotiate with states concerning games to be played and regulation while it ensures that tribal governments are the sole owners and primary beneficiaries of gaming, and legislatively recognizes tribal gaming as a way of promoting economic development for tribes.
Since the passage of IGRA, states have continually challenged IGRA, not satisfied with their role in negotiating with Tribes as equal sovereigns and have demanded more regulatory control. Now, just as the Tribes are beginning to build infrastructure, schools, hospitals and roads, states also demand access to the tribes' gaming revenues. Even the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), which regulates specific forms of gaming, can infringe on tribes' rights as it promulgates regulations. Over the years, several tribes have initiated court cases charging states with "bad faith" negotiation under IGRA, as well as to fight NIGC's regulations. Some have won, others lost.
Indian Nations are currently meeting with members of Congress and various state representatives to address concerns and look for ways to continue an economic development tool that benefits Indian and non-Indian people alike.
Tribes realize that the success of gaming is not an end in itself. Rather, it is a bridge to help regain what was once ours long ago -- true self-respect, self determination and economic self-sufficiency. Many tribes are looking beyond gaming and diversifying their economic base with other businesses. The skills and resources tribes are amassing in gaming will help assure our future and our children's future.
Today, gaming is often the most successful and viable source of employment and governmental revenues available to tribes. The proceeds from gaming are used by Indian Nations for subsistence, cultural preservation, and to replenish impoverished economies.
Native American gaming has been a major catalyst for community growth and economic development, generating revenues for tribes like no federal stimulus effort ever has before. After decades of poverty and high unemployment on often geographically remote reservations, Native American people now see gaming as an integral part of tribal economies and the means to achieve economic self-sufficiency for current and future generations.
The Tribal-State Compact
The tribal-state compact received approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs in May 2000 and became effective immediately.