Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – August 18, 2021 – This week the National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. joined Oklahoma Tribal Leaders to celebrate their industry's success in the State at the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association's (OIGA) annual conference.
The 2021 OIGA Conference and Trade Show, otherwise known as 'the biggest little show in Indian Gaming,' was held August 16-18. It brought together the 39 Sovereign Tribal Nations of Oklahoma, nearly 3,000 vendors, visitors, and guest speakers to the brand-new, state-of-the-art Oklahoma City Convention Center to celebrate and advance our industry.
Chairman Stevens and Executive Director Jason Giles helped kick off the conference with a roundtable discussion before Tribal gaming leaders and industry professionals. Moderated by Victor Rocha, the panel discussed the challenges Indian Country has faced during the pandemic. Chairman Stevens stated, "This was an unprecedented time and challenge for Indian Country and our Tribal Leaders. It took a tremendous amount of unity and information sharing to overcome all the unknowns of the virus when our gaming operations were forced to close to protect our communities."
Stevens added, "the National Indian Gaming Association immediately adjusted to the new normal. We united with our Member Tribes to organize our outreach to Congress to meet this steepest challenge in our history. We couldn't hop on a plane and travel to Washington, D.C., but we spent countless hours in virtual meetings, webinars, and conference calls with federal decision-makers. Everyone answered the call, and thanks to our united work, Tribal Governments secured significant resources in both the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan to blunt the health and economic impacts on Native communities from the pandemic. These resources gave us a bridge to keep Indian Country moving, as we protected and helped heal our people."
OIGA Chairman and National Indian Gaming Association Board Member Matthew Morgan remarked that it was the first time he could remember all 39 Tribal Governments in Oklahoma moving in unison to meet the pandemic challenges. "While Tribes did the right thing in temporarily closing operations, Tribes worked hard to keep employees on the payroll and avoid furloughs. It was an incredible pivot in the way Tribes were doing business and a very safe and successful response with all the credit owed to our Oklahoma Tribal Regulators and Government leaders."
Executive Director Giles spoke of the future of Indian gaming and how the pandemic has accelerated the push for more automation and more reliance on cashless transactions. The panelists were joined by Jessica Feil, VP of Government Relations & Gaming Policy Counsel at the American Gaming Association (AGA), who remarked that after early troubles, the commercial industry is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels.
Later in the afternoon, the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) Chairman Sequoyah Simermeyer and Vice-Chair Jeannie Hovland announced revenues of $27.8 billion for 2020, a decrease of nearly $7 billion in dollars from 2019, not unexpected given the shutdowns that occurred over the year. He shared that the regions impacted the hardest were California and the Upper Mid-west.
Simermeyer said, "This Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) decrease was expected; the unknown was just how much of an impact COVID-19 had on Indian gaming. Every year, the annual GGR figure tells a story about Indian gaming's successes, contributions to Indian communities, and economic impacts. This was highlighted even more during the pandemic. Nevertheless, tribes were on the forefront of creating standards, developing new safety protocols, and sharing community resources. I foresee this decrease as only a temporary setback for Indian gaming."
Chairman Stevens responded, "Yesterday's NIGC report on Tribal gaming revenues for 2020 is an astounding affirmation of Indian Country's unity and hard work during this pandemic. Our early 2020 projections showed revenues down 50% or more, but Tribal gaming rebounded faster than expected, and it was accomplished with safety first and through the hard work of our Tribal gaming regulators."
Stevens added, "Compared to other industries that relied heavily on federal government subsidies and still have not fully recovered, $27.8 billion in tribal gaming revenues for 2020, during the worst pandemic of our lifetime, reflects the resilience of our industry. It is a success story that is still being written. All the credit must be given to our tribal governments, our tribal gaming industry leaders, and our gaming regulators, who have joined all of our front-line employees who worked tirelessly to ensure our safety and economic survival. The tribal gaming industry is making a solid rebound. We are working to rebuild carefully and safely as we move through this challenging era. My hat goes off to them all."
Stevens also shared that the National Indian Gaming Association has been in regular contact and has worked hand-in-hand with the NIGC and the tribes throughout these unprecedented times. "It is important to maintain this dialogue as we rebuild this industry because we must stay diligent in our efforts until everyone is back on their feet."
The National Indian Gaming Association will be joining the Washington Indian Gaming Association Expo from August 30 to September 1, 2021, at the Little Creek Casino Resort in Shelton, Washington, and will host the annual Indian Gaming Mid-Year Conference, November 15-17, 2021, at the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, California.