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US – Tribal gaming wants $18bn in federal aid to cover casino closures

By - 19 March 2020

The Native American Gaming Association wants a government hand-out of $18bn to pay tribes and staff now that the casino industry in most states is grounded.

For many tribes, casinos are the sole source of commercial revenue and tribal governments will not be able to provide health and education services. The association has sent a letter to the White House asking that tribes receive a federal aid share of about two per cent, proportionate with their share of the US population, of the $850bn economic stimulus package presented by President Donald Trump.

Ernest L. Stevens, Chairman of NIGA, said: “The National Indian Gaming Association is committed to working and monitoring issues and legislation related to not only our industry but the COVID-19 and their impact on Indian country; however, we are also committed to assuring the health and welfare of our employees and their families.

“To that end, last Saturday morning, the House passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, HR 6201. This legislation guarantees free coronavirus testing, establishes paid leave, enhances unemployment insurance, ensures that most federal meal and food programs can operate or continue to operate, and increases federal Medicaid funding. Further, the legislation provides $64 million to IHS for diagnostic testing for coronavirus.”

“As the Senate takes up the legislation this week, NIGA is fighting hard for Indian Tribal Governments and Enterprises to be directly referenced and included in any and all relief packages being explored by the White House,” he added. “We will update our member Tribes as often as needed and call on your advocacy to help Congress understand that all economic relief should be distributed fairly to State, Tribal, and local Governments. Please keep all lines of communication open as we enter an unprecedented shut down of our daily lives. Our solidarity and common purpose will carry Indian Country through this crisis just as we have persevered over the centuries in the face of similar obstacles.”

The United States’ has around 460 Indian casinos employing 700,000-plus people directly and indirectly and generating over $37bnin 2017.

The federal government still provides most funds to tribes through treaties, negotiated generations ago, guaranteeing money for education, public safety, basic infrastructure, health and other services.

The association, representing 184 tribes, also proposed Congress enact legislation to enforce a temporary 26-week restructuring and suspension on interest rate accrual on all loans with tribal governments and their entities.

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