Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | October 2, 2004

A Libertarian view of tribal casinos

The proposal to build a casino in San Benito County stirs passionate debate among South Valley residents, and this newspaper’s editorial board is no exception. The newspaper has taken a “no casino” position. I disagree for numerous reasons.

Some tribal casino opponents object to Native American sovereignty. That ignores the fact that Native American sovereignty is a long-standing tradition dating back to the early 1800s, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Tribal Justice Web site.

That tradition continues to present times. Just last week, President George W. Bush reaffirmed his commitment to Native American sovereignty.

“Native American cultures survive and flourish when tribes retain control over their own affairs and their own future,” Bush told approximately 200 Native American leaders during a White House meeting. “That is why … I signed an executive memorandum to all federal agencies reaffirming the federal government’s long-standing commitment to respect tribal sovereignty and self-determination.”

Clearly, there are some disadvantages to having what the DOJ calls “federally recognized Indian tribes as domestic dependent nations,” and one of them is the difficulty in enforcing local land use control on a sovereign nation.

American history is replete with the mistreatment of indigenous people: broken treaties, forced relocations, ruined environments, destroyed cultures. To paraphrase the Bible, perhaps we’re reaping what generations past sowed with these shameful deeds.

As a practical matter, you’re tilting at windmills when you oppose tribal casinos because you’re opposed to Native American sovereignty. It’s not going away.

When I hear people object to casinos because they’re “bad for people,” my libertarian streak emerges.

As a general rule, I don’t like telling adults what they can and cannot do with their money. If they want to gamble it away at the craps table, that’s their business. Much like I oppose sodomy laws because I don’t think it’s anyone’s business what consenting adults do in the privacy of their homes, I generally don’t like it when someone tries to restrict how adults can spend their own hard-earned money.

Those who think that a local casino will tempt people to gamble who never would otherwise need to move into the 20th century.

Internet gambling has brought wagering into every home with a PC and modem. As a practical matter, any laptop can be a high-stakes casino. I truly doubt that the presence of a casino will entice folks to gamble who otherwise would spend their money on rent and groceries. This is a speculative, specious, straw man argument that casino opponents really ought to abandon.

Then there’s the argument that casinos bring crime. Any development brings crime. It’s certainly true of retail, yet Gilroy has embraced retail with seeming abandon.

The only way to keep crime away is to keep people away. But that’s not going to do much for the struggling economy of San Benito County, whether you plant a casino or a Wal-Mart along Highway 25.

I disagree with people who argue that a casino won’t boost the area’s economy. A real study (not just a vague reference to “research … back east” used by another columnist) conducted by the nation’s leading economic research organization, the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that Indian casinos boost employment, primarily among non-Native Americans. It also found a decline in mortality rates after the opening of a tribal casino.

But for me, it comes down to this: San Benito County needs the jobs and economic boost a casino would bring. I don’t know how San Benito County can turn down 1,500 union-wage jobs with benefits, not to mention the construction and service work (phones, cable, computers, cleaning) the project would bring. And we can’t forget that most casino visitors will at least buy local gasoline and food, or the new jobs at support businesses used by a casino and its visitors.

I have no doubt that one of the reasons the Miwok tribe selected San Benito County is that its proposal will be hard for the economically struggling region to resist. That makes them smart business people who are trying to contain costs and shorten the timeline to opening day.

Especially given the absence anyone else rushing to bring 1,500 good jobs to San Benito County, it is self-serving, paternalistic and presumptuous to tell long-suffering commuters, unemployed or underemployed San Benito County residents and struggling businesses that they just have to wait until a more “palatable” business comes along.

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