Author John Grisham stirs up the National Indian Gaming Association
Author John Grisham has ruffled the feathers of the National Indian Gaming Association leaders. In a CBS interview promoting his new book “The Whistler,” Grisham made some overstatements including, “Ninety percent of all the money that comes in is in cash, and it’s unregulated, nobody’s watching, and they don’t pay taxes. There’s no oversight….No one knows how much they make, they don’t have to report to anybody.”
The Indians argue that while the 90% cash operation may be near the truth, the rest of his statements are “recklessly and inexcusably” wrong. The Indians refute the other statements with evidence of regulation. They state that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (1989) created the National Indian Gaming Commission which mandates “significant state and tribal” regulation. The leaders claim this is expensive and time consuming.
For 2015 the NIGC indicated that Indian Gaming produced revenues of $29.9 billion for the tribes that have casinos. The critical letter to CBS was over the signature of Ernest L Stevens, Jr. Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association. At this point a little misguided literalism creeps into the Indian argument. He says that Grisham accuses the tribes of printing money. This is a common description of a lucrative business. The Chairman interprets this as an accusation of counterfeiting, which he refutes, but which misses the point. While the Indian defense of their casinos was needed, Stevens ignores the early history of the infiltration of a few casinos by members of the Mafia in the early 1990s. He also ignores that the present relatively well regulated operations are a three decades long process and were not present from the beginning.
Grisham certainly exaggerated and painted all operations with the same brush. The Indians certainly indicated that taxes to non-Indian agencies amounted to less than ten percent of revenues, and were required to pay for regulation or were agreed to in compacts with the states. The problems of the past were minimized. Grisham was promoting a book, the tribes were worried about damage to their customer base. In the end it is all about money.