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NIGA convention marks back-to-business moment

The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) returned to an in-person Indian Gaming Tradeshow and Convention from July 19-24 – this time at Caesars Forum in Las Vegas. Organizers said there were about 8,000 attendees and more than 350 vendors. While the event was sized down compared to previous years, it was considered a success
coming off a devastating year for tribal gaming during the worst of the pandemic.

“To see our tribal gaming family come together again after so long was phenomenal,” NIGA chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. (Oneida Nation) said in a statement. “Indian gaming showed up, rolled up our sleeves and did the work, united in our efforts to bring our industry back after the pandemic stopped the world in its tracks.”

Indian gaming is a force in the U.S. economy. Before the pandemic, annual gross revenue was $35 billion with another $6.2 billion in ancillary revenue from hotels, entertainment, restaurants and retail. In addition, according to NIGA, Indian gaming ranks No. 11 in employment in the U.S.

Topics discussed among attendees, which included tribal and gaming leaders and officials, ran the gamut from post-pandemic recovery, gaming operations, cybersecurity and domestic terrorism and federal legislative advocacy. Officials said perhaps the most discussed topic, however, was sports betting and online gaming. Many of the nation’s tribes, including the Seminole Tribe, are driving an expansion of sports betting across the U.S.

According to a report by Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, the number of states that have legalized sports betting is now 32, although 10 of those are not yet operational. The gaming research firm said it was only three years ago when Nevada was the only state where legal sports bets could take place.

But now, states with large populations, like Florida, have seen legislative approvals. Tribal entities are already operating sports betting in Colorado, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York and Pennsylvania. Arizona and Washington State are expected to join the ranks soon. The Seminole Tribe has signed a 30-year gaming compact agreement with Gov. Ron DeSantis that would put the tribe in charge of all forms of sports betting in Florida. The agreement still needs approval from the U.S. Department of Interior.

“We got blindsided by the pandemic but it’s created a lot of opportunities too,” conference chair Victor Rocha (Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians) said in an interview with Tribal Gaming and Hospitality Magazine. “We all need to start getting prepared for the bump, for this rocket ride of the economy: recalibrate, redo your business plan, refocus, get ready, because it’s happening. I think that’s the message we’ve got to get to the tribes.”

2021 marked NIGA’s 35th show, originally scheduled to take place in San Diego. Officials decided to move it to Las Vegas because of remaining restrictions on large gatherings in California due to Covid-19. Up next is the NIGA midyear conference at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, California, from Nov. 15-17.

The convention included a tradeshow with a variety of vendors. (Image via Facebook)
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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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