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Tribal Casinos Looking for Government Help

Once the envy of Indian Nation for its billion-dollar casino empire, the tribe that owns the Foxwoods Resort Casino has been struggling through a monetary crisis and pursuing additional income from an unlikely source: U.S. government grants.

The cash supplied annually towards the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation through the Interior Department and the Division of Wellness and Human Solutions has risen more than the final 5 years to greater than $4.five million, based on documents obtained by The Associated Press by way of the Freedom of Details Act. One particular former tribal employee says department leaders had been encouraged to offset dwindling sources by looking for much more federal grants.

The Pequots, who after distributed stipends exceeding $100,000 annually to adult members, are certainly not alone amongst gaming tribes looking for much more federal help. Numerous, which includes the owner of Foxwoods’ rival Connecticut casino, the Mohegan Sun, say they’ve been pursuing much more grants – a trend that critics obtain galling since the law that gave rise to Indian casinos was intended to assist tribes turn into financially self-sufficient.

“The whole objective on the 1988 law which authorized Indian casinos was to assist federally-recognized tribes raise revenue to run their governments by building casinos on their reservations,” stated Robert Steele, a former Congressman from Connecticut. “I would argue strongly that federal cash was meant for struggling tribes. Certainly the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans couldn’t beneath any circumstances be put in that category.”

As long as they’ve federal recognition, casino-owning tribes are eligible for the exact same grant applications because the larger tribes according to huge, poverty-stricken reservations within the American West. The grants, which don’t have to be paid back, support tribal governments by paying for applications including well being screenings, road maintenance and environmental preservation.

“The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation is proud from the perform they do together with the use of federal funds in relation to assisting the region and fellow Native Americans,” said Bill Satti, a tribal spokesman, who said the grants have supported the tribe’s healthcare clinic and repair perform on neighborhood roadways.

Thomas Weissmuller, who was chief judge from the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court till 2011, stated that close to the finish of his tenure the tribal council stated they had distributed too much income to members and urged department leaders to pursue far more federal grants. He mentioned there was resistance from some council members, who raised queries in regards to the effects on sovereignty, but he was personally encouraged to pursue grants by officials which includes the tribal chairman, Rodney Butler.

Weissmuller said he was not comfortable in search of such assistance for the tribal court method mainly because most of the difficulties it dealt with were connected for the casino, which is primarily a industrial enterprise.

“A billion-dollar gaming enterprise really should completely fund the tribal government,” mentioned Weissmuller, who stated that he was forced out of the job by tribal officials who told him he did not seem to possess the tribe’s interests at heart on other matters.

The reversal of fortunes for the Pequots started about 2008, when Foxwoods completed a significant, pricey expansion with the 30-story MGM Grand hotel and casino just as the recession began to show its teeth. The following year the tribe defaulted on debt exceeding $2 billion.

Due to the fact then, the tribe of some 900 men and women in rural southeastern Connecticut has ended its member stipends. The Pequots have kept some other positive aspects in spot, covering payments for members pursuing higher education and providing supplemental pay for tribal members taking entry-level jobs at the casino.

The federal grants provided to the Pequots by way of the Interior Department and its Bureau of Indian Affairs, meanwhile, rose from $1 million in 2008 to $2.7 million in 2011, with partial records for 2012 displaying $1.7 million in grants for the year. Grants offered towards the Pequots by way of the Indian Well being Service, a division of Wellness and Human Services, enhanced steadily from $1.7 million in 2008 to $1.9 million in 2012. That revenue would be to assistance well being care solutions for instance community health, nutrition, substance abuse therapy and pharmacy solutions.

The federal income opened the door to scrutiny by the FBI, whose investigation of tribal finances led for the January indictments on the tribe’s treasurer, Steven Thomas, and his brother Michael Thomas, a former tribal chairman. The two are accused of stealing a combined $800,000 in tribal cash and federal grants. The tribal council has expressed full self-assurance in its treasurer.

Mohegan Tribe officials stated they took pride in refusing federal grants for many years, in acknowledgment that there were needier tribes. But tribal officials stated they had relaxed that position as their Mohegan Sun casino, like Foxwoods, has faced developing gambling competitors from neighboring states.

“It’s a sign in the occasions. Everyone is” looking for grants, Mohegan Chairman Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum mentioned. “There’s some that we qualify for and it helps us to maintain everybody healthier and functioning. At the finish with the day, why shouldn’t we apply for it? If we get approved, it’s often to get a very good lead to, generally well being or jobs produced.”

Tribal officials said they get modest grants to contribute for the price of well being care for their 2,000 members.

The tribe that owns the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Michigan, on the list of country’s largest Indian casinos outside of Connecticut, has been aggressively pursuing grants in areas like environmental protection and well being solutions as it struggles with all the weak economy, based on Sylvia Murray, grants and contracts manager for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.

Sam Deloria, director of the American Indian Graduate Center in Albuquerque, N.M., said he has no problem with tribes pursuing grants for which they’re eligible. It is no distinctive, he stated, from the state of Alaska participating in federal applications despite the annual payouts to residents in the state’s oil savings account.

As the federal revenue reflects monetary distress for gaming tribes, on the other hand, he does worry that their struggles ultimately could have a ripple effect throughout Indian Country and impact the potential of tribes to take part in the marketplace.

“It has got to raise a set of problems that either inside the courts, or within the Congress, or in the marketplace, at some point it’s going to get folks looking at tribal participation in small business in a diverse light,” he stated.

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