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Oregon Indian Tribal Gaming and Employment
by Dallas Fridley
Published Oct-21-2013

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the authority of tribal governments to establish gaming operations independent of state regulation provided that the state in question permits some form of gaming. Congress took up the issue of tribal gaming and conducted a series of hearings, ultimately culminating in the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA).

The National Indian Gaming Commission - www.nigc.gov - is an independent federal regulatory agency of the United States that was established pursuant to the IGRA. The NIGC website provides a list of gaming tribes and reports on tribal gaming revenue. According to the NIGC, there are eight Indian casinos operating in Oregon.

Nationally, the Indian gaming industry has grown from one that produced $5.5 billion in total revenues in 1995, to one that reached nearly $28 billion in 2012. Since 2010, the Indian gaming industry has experienced approximately 3 percent growth annually. The most recent Indian gaming statistics, provided by the NIGC, indicate that in 2012 there were more than 420 Indian gaming establishments in the United States associated with nearly 240 tribes across 28 states; for comparative purposes, state lotteries generate revenues for 44 states and the District of Columbia. California and Northern Nevada alone generated $7 billion in gaming revenues at 64 Indian gaming operations. In Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, Indian tribes operated 49 gaming facilities and generated $2.9 billion in revenues. The top 20 tribal gaming operations nationally brought in nearly 56 percent of Indian gaming revenue.

A recent study by the National Indian Gaming Association estimated total U.S. employment directly related to Indian gaming at 283,000 in 2009. Indian gaming revenue in 2009, at $26.2 billion, represented 23.6 percent of the $110.9 billion consumer spend nationwide on legal gambling. That share was actually less than the $50.4 billion taken in by state-run lotteries or the $34.3 billion generated by commercial gambling. In addition to gaming revenues, Indian tribes generated hospitality revenues totaling $3.2 billion in 2009.

Indian Gaming Facilities in Oregon
Each of Oregon's nine federally recognized tribes have operated a casino. The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians was the first, opening Cow Creek Indian Bingo in 1992, which was quickly expanded into Seven Feathers Casino. Five additional casinos were operating by the end of 1995:

  • Wildhorse - Confederated Tribes of Umatilla
  • Chinook Winds - Confederated Tribes of Siletz
  • Indian Head - Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs
  • The Mill - Coquille Indian Tribe
  • Spirit Mountain - Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde

Kla-Mo-Ya Casino - operated by the Klamath Tribes - opened in 1997, followed by Old Camp Casino - operated by the Burns Paiute Tribe - in 1998. The Old Camp Casino closed temporarily in late 2012 and plans for a new facility are in the works. Indian Head Casino changed its name to Kah-Nee-Ta High Desert Resort & Casino in February of 2001, but a new, expanded facility opened in 2012, reverting back to the Indian Head Casino title. Three Rivers Casino - operated by the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw - opened in 2004.

In addition to the eight operating casinos, Oregon's Indian tribal government employment is spread out across 14 counties (Table 1). Casino gaming does dominate the employment profile of Indian tribal government, but there are also many other industries and activities that provide jobs.

Table 1
Counties With Indian Tribal Government Employment in Oregon
County Resort/Casino Facility
Coos The Mill Casino
Douglas Seven Feathers Casino Resort
Harney Old Camp Casino (Temporarily Closed)
Hood River  
Jefferson Indian Head Casino
Klamath Kla-Mo-Ya Casino
Lane Three Rivers Casino
Lincoln Chinook Winds Casino
Polk Spirit Mountain Casino
Umatilla Wildhorse Gaming Resort and Casino
Indian Tribal Employment Profile
The Indian tribal government employment series dates back to 1995 when it was moved out of private and into local government ownership. In its first year, the Indian tribal government series averaged 3,200 jobs. Although a comparative employment figure for 1994 isn't available, Indian tribal government entered 1995 with just 2,200 jobs and by December its total reached 4,200, a gain of 2,000 jobs.

As shown in Graph 1, Indian tribal government averaged 6,300 workers in 1998, a gain of 3,100 or nearly 100 percent over its 1995 average. And the industry has continued to grow, adding 2,500 jobs to average 8,800 in 2012, an increase of nearly 40 percent.

Without rounding, employment in Oregon's Indian tribal government sector averaged 8,767 jobs in 2012. On the payroll side, the industry shelled out $302.9 million in wages and salaries. On average, Indian tribal jobs paid $34,550.

Indian tribal governments in Oregon operate 81 establishments in the 18 counties shown in Table 1. Public administration, which typically represents government administrative functions, provided jobs for nearly 2,400 workers - or 27.2 percent of the 2012 total (Graph 2). Payrolls in public administration totaled $101 million and on average workers earned $42,326. There were just 22 Indian tribal government establishments reporting public administration jobs in 2012, and 11 of these had fewer than 20 employees.

Outside government administrative work and resort and casino employment, the remaining 14 percent of all tribal government jobs were found in industries that include agriculture, utilities, construction, manufacturing, retail trade, information, financial activities, professional and business services, educational and health services, and other services. In 2012 there were 1,241 jobs in this catch-all group with $46.4 million in total payroll. Average pay in the all-other group reached $37,375, more than $2,800 above the average for all Indian tribal government.

Umatilla County led the all-other industries group in 2012 with employment in custom computer programing, an outpatient care center, and a grant-making foundation providing 396 jobs. Jefferson County ranked second in the all-other industries group with 249 jobs found in hydroelectric power, heavy construction, a sawmill, wood composites, telecommunications, a credit union, property management, and engineering services. In Douglas County (ranked third) the all-other industries group provided 235 jobs in 2012 with employment found in beef cattle ranching and farming, single family home construction, meat processing, commercial printing, a gas station/convenience store, telecommunications, a health insurance carrier, and property management. The three top counties in 2012 accounted for 71 percent of the jobs associated with the all-other industries group.

Close to 60 percent (58.6%) of the Indian tribal government total was generated by the amusement, gambling and recreation sector and casino hotels (resort and casino). Indian tribal resort and casino employment rose to 5,138 jobs in 2012. Payrolls in the resort and casino group totaled $155.5 million, and the average job paid $30,256.

Resort and casino workers earned less than those in other Indian tribal enterprises, but it is important to note that casino revenues underwrite many essential government jobs and service needs. The total job impact is obviously not limited to the direct jobs. Supply and service needs also translate to opportunities for private businesses.

Graph 1
Indian tribal government employment Oregon 1995-2012 annual averages
Graph 2
Oregon indian tribal government, casino/resort and other industry emp 1/10-3/13
A Numbers Game
The top 20 tribal gaming operations nationally brought in nearly 56 percent of Indian gaming revenue and proximity to a metro area was the primary difference between the top 20 operations and the remaining 400 or so (95 percent). Location, location, location: it matters.

On average, an Indian tribal casino located in the Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington region brought in nearly $60 million in 2012. In addition to the eight casinos currently operating in Oregon (and one temporarily closed), the Coquille Indian Tribe hopes to transform a bowling alley in Medford into their second casino location. The Coquille Indian Tribe also operates The Mill Casino in North Bend, which is 165 miles away from Medford. Looking at population totals in 2012, the Medford MSA was the fourth-largest metro area in Oregon with 207,100 residents. North Bend's population paled in comparison, with 9,695 residents in 2012, while Coos County's population totaled 62,534. Just 70 highway miles north of Medford, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians operates the Seven Feathers Hotel and Casino Resort in Canyonville.

The Coquille Indian Tribe isn't the only tribe in Oregon that has sought to develop a casino off reservation lands and in close proximity to a metro area. In 2012 the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs opened its new and expanded facility, Indian Head Casino, along Oregon Highway 26 in Jefferson County. The new facility in Jefferson County was developed after a protracted effort to locate a casino in Cascade Locks, less than an hour's driving time from the Portland Metro area.

The Oregon Lottery doesn't operate casinos but it has about 1,500 lottery retailers selling traditional products (Megabucks, Powerball, Scratch-its, Keno, etc.), and about 600 retailers who sell only video lottery games. About 1,700 retailers sell both types, for a total of approximately 3,800 Oregon Lottery retailers. The Oregon Lottery's unaudited 2011 fiscal year sales reached $1.04 billion. The FY 2011 sales total ranked as the fifth-highest in Lottery history, continuing a six-year trend of Lottery sales topping the $1 billion mark.

Oregon's Indian gaming industry is big business, with more than 5,100 jobs in 2012 and a payroll of nearly $156 million. With close to 60 percent of all Indian Tribal Government jobs, Indian gaming was the industry's most prominent job creator. While successful, location and proximity to a metro area are attributes that not every Oregon tribe can take advantage of.