Futureproofing California’s tribal gaming enterprises

Casino Review - California Tribal Gaming
Share this article

Speaking at the 22nd Annual Western Indian Gaming Conference at the Morongo Resort, California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) Chairman Steve Stallings, discussed the challenges and opportunities facing the state’s $7.9bn tribal gaming sector in a “State of the Industry” address.


It has been a good year and a great ride for our gaming enterprises. We have expanded into related profit centres that are synergistic such as resorts, family vacation attractions, business and meeting centres, recreational vehicle parks, golf courses, and a wide variety of food and beverage attractions.

New businesses from olive oil manufacturing, to a microbrewery have sprouted from the entrepreneurial spirit, and revenues created by gaming.

Our enterprises fund governments. This income protects our sovereignty, and cares for our members and land. Commercial businesses go bankrupt; move to other states; and start other businesses. The loss is to owners and investors. If we lose, our people lose. We have lives riding on gaming, including future generations of Indians.

There are going to be challenges and stiff competition for gambling dollars in the future. Whether it’s sports betting, race tracks, online lotteries, bingo, eSports, or social and other hybrid games. Preserving brick and mortar play, and hooking into these expanding digital markets, requires preparation now.

We need to think about what and when, as well as how. We can have confidence in turning challenges to opportunity because we have had experience – the Cabazon Supreme Court Decision of 1987 [which recognised the inherent right of Indian tribes to offer gaming on tribal lands].

To turn changes to opportunities, we are going to have to be willing to take risks, to know what risks to take, and commit financially, as well as verbally in new technologies.

The recent nine-year experience trying to get I-Poker legalised in California is a sad indicator of the complexity of the learning curve and competition we face in protecting and expanding our gaming status. It also is a commentary on our need to settle differences and compromise in private among ourselves, and unite behind policies and issues. Disagreements in the media and legislator’s offices, only provides excuses for legislators to do nothing.

This brings us to the new technology. Moving from the analog to the digital world is occurring faster than most of us are prepared for.

Like all consumers, future markets are going to pay for thrills and entertainment that have been standard fare in their lives. The gaming industry has worked itself into frenzy over the idea that slot machines, even table games are too slow for Millennials, which, today at their oldest are only age 35. They are used to fast play, skill based competition, and social interaction during games.

Gaming manufactures and tribes will learn to live with this generation and their new level of skills, and find ways to adapt and accommodate their interests – only, if they are profitable.

Being on the cutting edge isn’t the goal of tribal gaming. The goal is to be on the cutting edge, when it generates revenues for our communities.

Changes in laws in sports betting, like Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS), will open the door to online sports and eBetting, such as eSports.

However, another form of online gaming – the social gaming market – produces 15-20 times as much revenue as DFS and New Jersey’s gaming industry combined. The market was expected to reach $4bn in 2016.

Preparing for the future is important, so is the present. Before we become carried away with future challenges, we need to remember to pay attention to what’s right in front of us.

We dare not neglect the large baby boomer market, just now retiring, seeking entertainment and experiences. There are more Boomers than Millennials. They also have more disposable income.

Plus, this market enjoys the current social and gaming venues we offer. They are not looking for exotic types of digital stimulation.

Improving access and accommodation will pay off. No matter how good our marketing and service departments, there is always room for improvement in winning and keeping loyal consumers.

Attention to pricing and value will always be important. There’s always the spectre of an economic downturn wreaking havoc with our bottom lines. As we have learned, economies have cycles. Some things that can hurt us are beyond our control. Still, we must plan for them anyway.

Today is a good day to start talking about the competition, and discussing our best economic offense and defence.

My personal goal is to revitalise CNIGA. It’s our historic home base, our tribal campfire, the place we come to stay in tune with our industry, to debate and discuss legal and legislative issues, and to build consensus and resilience as we look to the future of tribal government gaming.

Share this article