Oregon Indian Tribal Gaming and Employment

by Dallas Fridley

October 13, 2021

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 (NIGC) – 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 fiscal year (FY) 1995, to one that reached $34.6 billion in FY 2019. Between 2014 and 2019, the Indian gaming industry experienced 4.1% growth annually. The most recent Indian gaming statistics, provided by the NIGC, indicate that in FY 2020 there were 524 Indian gaming establishments in the United States associated with 248 tribes across 29 states. Gaming industry revenue fell to $27.8 billion in FY 2020, a loss of 19.5% or $6.7 billion.

California and Northern Nevada alone generated $9.7 billion in FY 2019, with 76 Indian gaming operations reporting gaming revenues. In FY 2020, gaming revenues in California and Northern Nevada dropped to $8.4 billion (-13.2%). In the Portland region, which includes Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, Indian tribes operated 57 gaming facilities and generated $3.8 billion in FY 2019. Gaming revenues in the Portland region fell to $3.1 billion in FY 2020, a drop of 18.3%. Nationally, tribal gaming operations with revenues of $250 million and over accounted for 45.2% of Indian gaming revenue in FY 2019 but represented just 6.3% of gaming operations, numbering 33. Only 22 gaming operations produced revenues of $250 million and over in FY 2020.

The contributions of Indian gaming to Oregon’s economy were analyzed by ECONorthwest over 2012 and 2013. According to the report, Indian tribal gaming stimulated more than $1.4 billion in total economic output statewide, supporting 11,510 jobs and $237.1 million in wages and benefits. Grants and donations from Indian tribes to local charities totaled $6.9 million in 2013.

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 in late 2012 and plans for a new facility were announced but have yet to materialize. 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. An additional gaming facility, Three Rivers Casino-Coos Bay, opened in 2013.
In addition to the nine operating casinos, Oregon’s Indian tribal government employment is spread out across 17 counties. Casino gaming does dominate the employment profile of Indian tribal government, but there are also many other industries and activities that provide jobs.

Oregon’s 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.

Indian tribal government averaged 6,300 workers in 1998, a gain of 3,100 or nearly 100% over its 1995 average. And the industry continued to grow, adding 2,500 jobs to average 8,800 in 2012, an increase of nearly 40%.
Beginning in 2013, however, Indian tribal government pulled back, falling to 8,200 jobs in 2015 and holding steady from 2016 to 2018. Employment fell slightly in 2019, dropping by 100 jobs to average 8,100, Indian tribal government’s lowest employment total since 2006. On the payroll side, Indian tribal government reached a record $348.3 million in 2019 payrolls, a new peak, while annual wages averaged $43,029.

COVID-19 job losses hit Indian tribal government in 2020, resulting in the loss of 500 jobs. Payrolls also fell in 2020 – by about 2.3% or $8.1 million – but the average wage actually rose to $45,123. Through the first nine months of 2021, Indian tribal government averaged 7,600 jobs, matching its 2020 annual average. Indian tribal government gained 700 jobs since January 2021 to reach 7,900 in August; an over-the-year increase of 400 jobs or 5%.

Indian tribal governments in Oregon operated 81 employer units in 2020, covering the 17 counties shown in the table. Public administration, which typically represents government administrative functions, provided 32% of the industry’s jobs.
Outside government administrative work and resort and casino employment, about 12% of Indian 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. The amusement, gambling and recreation sector and casino hotels (resort and casino) held close to 56% of Oregon’s 2020 Indian tribal government employment.

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