Chairman Stevens: “The tribal gaming industry is making a solid rebound”

Ernie Stevens Jr Indian Gaming Association
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Speaking at the 2021 OIGA Conference and Trade Show, National Indian Gaming Association chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. highlighted that tribal gaming is recovering “faster than expected”.


National Indian Gaming Association chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. joined Oklahoma tribal leaders to celebrate their industry’s success at the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association’s (OIGA) annual conference.

The 2021 OIGA Conference and Trade Show was held 16-18 August and brought together the 39 Sovereign Tribal Nations of Oklahoma, nearly 3,000 vendors, visitors, and guest speakers at the Oklahoma City Convention Center.

Stevens and executive director Jason Giles helped kick off the conference with a roundtable discussion before tribal gaming leaders and industry professionals, with the panel discussing the challenges Indian Country has faced during the pandemic.

“This was an unprecedented time and challenge for Indian Country and our tribal leaders. It took a tremendous amount of unity and information sharing to overcome all the unknowns of the virus when our gaming operations were forced to close to protect our communities,” Stevens stated. The National Indian Gaming Association immediately adjusted to the new normal. We united with our Member Tribes to organise our outreach to Congress to meet this steepest challenge in our history. We couldn’t hop on a plane and travel to Washington DC, but we spent countless hours in virtual meetings, webinars, and conference calls with federal decisionmakers,” he explained.

“Everyone answered the call, and thanks to our united work, Tribal Governments secured significant resources in both the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan to blunt the health and economic impacts on Native communities from the pandemic. These resources gave us a bridge to keep Indian Country moving, as we protected and helped heal our people.”

Later in the afternoon, the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) chairman Sequoyah Simermeyer and vice-chair Jeannie Hovland announced revenues of $27.8bn for 2020, a decrease of nearly $7bn from 2019, not unexpected given the shutdowns that occurred over the year. He shared that the regions impacted the hardest were California and the Upper Mid-west.

“This Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) decrease was expected; the unknown was just how much of an impact COVID-19 had on Indian gaming. Every year, the annual GGR figure tells a story about Indian gaming’s successes, contributions to Indian communities, and economic impacts. This was highlighted even more during the pandemic,” Simermeyer reported. “Nevertheless, tribes were on the forefront of creating standards, developing new safety protocols, and sharing community resources. I foresee this decrease as only a temporary setback for Indian gaming.”

Stevens said the NIGC report on Tribal gaming revenues for 2020 represented “an astounding affirmation of Indian Country’s unity and hard work during this pandemic”.

“Our early 2020 projections showed revenues down 50 percent or more, but Tribal gaming rebounded faster than expected, and it was accomplished with safety first and through the hard work of our Tribal gaming regulators.

“Compared to other industries that relied heavily on federal government subsidies and still have not fully recovered, $27.8bn in tribal gaming revenues for 2020, during the worst pandemic of our lifetime, reflects the resilience of our industry. It is a success story that is still being written. All the credit must be given to our tribal governments, our tribal gaming industry leaders, and our gaming regulators, who have joined all of our front-line employees who worked tirelessly to ensure our safety and economic survival. The tribal gaming industry is making a solid rebound. We are working to rebuild carefully and safely as we move through this challenging era. My hat goes off to them all.”

He added that NIGA has been in regular contact and has worked hand-in-hand with the NIGC and the tribes throughout these unprecedented times. “It is important to maintain this dialogue as we rebuild this industry because we must stay diligent in our efforts until everyone is back on their feet,” Stevens affirmed.

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