Policy Matters is a quarterly series of reports that provide timely research and guidance on issues that are of concern to policymakers at the local, state, and national levels.

Volume 1, Issue 4 by Mindy Marks and Kate Spilde Contreras is entitled: Lands of Opportunity: Social and Economic Effects of Tribal Gaming on Localities


Executive Summary

This report describes the social and economic effects of tribal government gaming operations on tribal and local governments in California, comparing changes in key indicators of well-being between 1990 and 2000 across tribal governments in California. It also contrasts these changes in California’s tribal governments to those outside the state. These findings suggest that, on the whole, gaming operations have had beneficial effects on the tribes, on communities near gaming facilities, and on California more generally. In particular, the establishment of gaming has had beneficial effects on income levels, poverty rates, employment, and educational attainment. Further, these are progressive effects, meaning that poorer areas received larger benefits than more prosperous areas.

The consequences of tribal government gaming in California are directly related to two identifiable features of the enterprises themselves: 1) the fact that they are owned by tribal governments, and 2) the fact that they must be located on existing tribal trust lands. Tribal government ownership places a natural limit on the growth of casino gaming in California and directs gaming revenues towards socioeconomic recovery in tribal communities and regions. Limiting tribal government gaming to existing trust lands also maximizes gaming’s social and economic benefits due to the fact that that most Indian reservations in California, even the more prosperous ones, are located in the poorest counties and tracts in the state. However, this also suggests that the benefits of gaming will take some time to elevate the conditions of tribal governments and surrounding areas to those enjoyed by other Americans.

Mindy Marks is assistant professor of economics at the University of California, Riverside. She received her Ph.D. from the Washington University, St. Louis and also researches health economics and applied microeconomics..

Kate Spilde Contreras is managing director of the Center for California Native Nations at the University of California, Riverside. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz and researches Indian gaming, federal recognition, and tribal governance.