Should Indian Casinos Pay Taxes?

One of the upcoming California ballot initiatives asks whether Indian casinos should be required to pay taxes. Thus far, this extremely profitable $6 billion industry (and that’s just here in California) has operated tax-free.

I’ve come to the conclusion that native American casinos should pay taxes.

Those who argue the other side of the issue usually do so because of the treatment native Americans received by the United States in the past. This leaves me wondering what one has to do with the other.

Someone at Tenth Muse brought up the fact that the current generation of native Americans was not the victim of smallpox or wars against the U.S. It’s a critical point. As a Jewish person, I don’t hold any post-war Germans responsible for WWII atrocities. By the same token, I don’t want to be treated punitively for slavery. If today’s generation is punished for the sins of previous ones, where does it end?

It doesn’t. And that’s a problem.

Taken to the extreme, consider Muslims in the Middle East who still hold 21st century Christians responsible for inhumane acts committed during the time of the Crusades. That was eight hundred years ago. (I don’t mean to pick on Muslims — it’s just an example that came to mind.)

In a “fair” world the native Americans would own the land here and all the Europeans would still be in Europe. But life is not fair, and in this case an attempt to make it so punishes people who have done nothing wrong. This breeds resentment and keeps the cycle going.

In the “real” world each generation starts over with whatever they’ve got and tries to make the best of it. Some are better off than others. And they should be held responsible for their own actions. But to make them pay for sins of their forebearers is to invite the kind of long term hatred and inter-generational conflict that is far more costly and enduring.

Whether you’re Jewish, native American, African, Italian, or anything in between, someone out there has done your people wrong in the past. We can look back a dozen generations, point fingers and demand reparations. Or we can take each person we encounter today at their own merits, working to build a world where the past doesn’t repeat itself.

Which is it gonna be?

  27 comments for “Should Indian Casinos Pay Taxes?

  1. Richelle Baptista
    May 1, 2004 at 5:47 pm

    Great outlook and good advise. I’m doing my thesis on how Indian casinos affect cities and tired of people saying it’s their right because of what was done to them.

  2. Jon
    May 3, 2004 at 10:13 pm

    Amen, Brother Ron! Amen!

  3. Matt Smith
    May 5, 2004 at 9:20 am

    I don’t think you’re drawing fair parallels, Ron. Let me explain;

    In the examples you gave, you referred to specific crimes against certain groups. I think we can all agree that WWII is over, and that the generation involved in those specific crimes is either dead or dying. At this point, we surely have to move on; you’re right about that. As far as I know, the Germans are no longer trying to oppress the Jews.

    But in the case of the American Indian (and the natives of my country, Canada), the “crime” is ongoing. You’re right – we should forget the smallpox blankets at this point. Maybe we should even forget the stolen land. What’s done is done, right? Yet we continue to take more land from them as each year passes. We continue to break promises we’ve made them. We continue to destroy the environment and the ecosystem that once supported them, relegating them to the land we find useless and basically forcing them into the poverty that continually erodes their culture. We’re not just talking about a specific set of incidences; we’re talking about the ongoing, systematic destruction of an entire people that continues to this day. We’re both complicit in it. Me and you.

    Your assumption is that the “war” in this case is over – that “Native American” is now just “American”. Head out to a reservation, and they’ll tell you that’s not true. The current Native American is forced to choose between “assimilating” or trying to live out their traditional lifestyles in a country that makes it virtually impossible to do so. That’s really no choice at all. Of course there’s no such thing as a perfect world, but there has to be some kind of compromise in there, don’t you think? I think that giving American Indians a chance to drag themselves out of the crippling poverty created by our previous and current administrations is a great start.

    My biggest question is – how do you figure that giving Indians tax-exempt status is “punishment” for you? Giving one person a privilege is not necessarily “punishing” everyone else, is it? Your statement implies that paying taxes at all is “punishment”, in which case you should be lobbying for ALL casinos to be tax exempt, not just for the Indians to be “punished” like everyone else. If you ask me, the only people being punished in this circumstance are the poor saps who lose their money at these casinos.

    You’re not being asked to give back anything that was taken – all you’re being asked is to share in what is being generated. To help right a wrong that is still being done. If Natives were trying to take back the land your house is built on, this would be an entirely different circumstance. But they’re not asking for anything physical from you. They’re asking for an economic advantage to help them rebuild their society. This requires no effort or contribution from you. Zero. So what’s your beef? If you don?t want to support the Indians, simply don?t patronize their casinos. Problem solved, no?

    In short, I agree with 99% of what you’ve said. You make some excellent points – I just don’t think they’re at all relevant to this particular situation. I think if you read up on it, you’ll find that the current situation with Native Americans is quite unlike any historical parallel you’ll be able to draw. Even the situation with African Americans is quite different; they actually still have a “homeland” to return to, if they wanted to live out their cultural imperatives. Where can the Indians go? Your house? Mine?

    PS Richelle, If your thesis is fair, it’ll include some historical truths to put the situation in context. Read up on the plight of the American Indian before you condemn them.

    • Suzanne
      November 8, 2013 at 11:32 am

      As a Native American, allowing us to generate income on Federally allocated (less desirable) land allows us to try to retain our culture and maintain our environment. Part of that cultue only exists by being sovereign and abidding by tribal law which does not include the US government. And because of the casinos, we are able to support educating our young on language, how to honor elder wisdom, learning celebrational dance, natural medicine practices and spiritual connection. We also are able to develop our lands in ways to support our environment. These are things that mean something to my Tribe. And our actions reflect more than just belief systems, we have created so much good and continue to do so. By our practices, will collectively raise the nations awareness of tolerance and greater good one American at a time.

      Tribe really means something to us. We are connected through bloodline, our culture and our own governance.

      Our two worlds collide and unfortunately it seems to be about money, in this case taxes for the American government. I would much rather see a Tribe use the casino money to put in solar street lighs, develop water rainwater heavesting system, replant the dying oak trees than pay for our politicians in Washington watch their pension funds grow while not doing their jobs.

      P.s. reservation property law enforcement is either self governed or pays the local law enforcement handsomely to patrol the land.

      Being Native American is a blessing and I am greatful that I am an American. I pay my personal income taxes and get involved in my community outside my Indian Nation.

  4. sharon
    May 5, 2004 at 11:24 am

    The question of taxes cannot be answered until the mess of all of the money owed to the Native Americans from oil and mineral rights, etc., is straightened out.

  5. philippe
    May 6, 2004 at 10:53 am

    i don’t know what say about this topip, but you have to think that the american indians they where the first people in this country.

    so if they are original habitants, and when they live here they didin’t have to pay taxes, why they have to pay now?

  6. jdogg
    May 6, 2004 at 12:05 pm

    They have to pay now because casinos drag all kinds of scum and low lives to communities straining the local law enforcement and lowering the overall community value. If they affect us like this than of course they should be giving something back to counter the negatives.
    at least, thats going to be my biggest point today in debate class.

  7. KEITH
    May 9, 2004 at 1:22 pm

    We all know our government handles money poorly at best. Why on Gods green earth would we continue to support these gross inefficacies just to level the playing board. Taxes demoralizes and creates disincentives for efficient productivity. Maybe we should tax email and the internet because they are getting a free ride?

  8. John
    May 11, 2004 at 5:13 pm

    Ron, I’m no expert on the intricacies of Indian treaties, but aren’t Indian reservations separate countries within our own, by virtue of the treaty agreements that created them? We’ve certainly broken many other aspects of those treaties, but it makes sense to me that we should be careful about breaking any more, despite our interest in getting our hands on some of that cash. If they’re independent, isn’t an attempt to collect taxes on earnings within them as much a violation of sovereignty as if we were to demand tax revenue from maquiladoras in Mexico?

  9. mico evans
    May 17, 2004 at 2:59 am

    Ok, now this is stupid this is an easy statement for an easy question. No! why pay pay taxes to a nation that you don’t belong to? Natives shouldn’t pay taxes on their own land. America should be paying them taxes. duh

  10. Dave Warleader
    June 4, 2004 at 10:33 am

    This real world you’re talking about is based on imaginary titles and “royal” proclamations made by people who look at the fairness of skin as an annointment of holy virtue.
    It really doesnt matter what you thinkor feel the “REAL” fact is Native Nations are Sovereign and exempt from occupying colonial tribute payments, or taxes if you prefer.
    What you are proposing is taxation without representation, c’mon ronnie even your fore-fathers didn’t like that now did they?
    A lot of people would like to forget the past and take advantage of the poor dum injuns, especially the ones who benefit most from the ongoing systematic and deliberate genocide.
    There may be a reason we all have to learn history in school,no matter how biased it may be, I believe it is so level-headed pragmatists won’t be influenced by ignorant and blatantly racist viewpoints such as yours.
    Just because you and yours say Natives don’t have the right to honor the victims of U.S. Treachery doesn’t mean they don’t.
    Native People have lived with the threat of being legislated out of existence since the infantile nation of usa was concocted.
    The basic ideals and principles of usa are lofty and worthy this i applaud it is the application of these goals in a colonial mindframe where the whole thing falls on its face, entangled in a web of mis-information and deceit.
    Even you young ronnie should know where these principles of self-governance came from, and maybe you should walk a mile in another mans moccasins before you join the crusades.
    thank you

  11. Ron
    June 4, 2004 at 5:38 pm

    Dave, the real world I’m talking about is based on *facts*, not royal proclamations or imaginary titles.

    Fact: the generation of people who oppressed native Americans are long since dead.

    Fact: these casinos rake in billions of dollars, primarily from U.S. citizens.

    Fact: Native Americans have dual citizenship, so they are also American citizens.

    Fact: Native Americans are eligible for the same tax-funded services that other Americans receive.

    I came to the conclusion that they ought to pay taxes. Now if you disagree with my thesis, I can respect that. However, I do not respect baseless accusations of “ongoing deliberate genocide” and racism.

  12. Ron
    June 4, 2004 at 5:46 pm


    Your arguement is a persuasive one. Normally I would agree with you. We cannot tax corporations in Mexico, as you said.

    On the other hand, if that corporation is doing business here, or has sufficient domestic ownership, or meets other criteria, it can be subject to U.S. tax.

    I would say that the Native American nations are sort of a unique situation. As I understand it, Native Americans have dual citizenship. This means they have available to them the legal protections, social benefits, and other aspects of U.S. citizenship that our taxes pay for.

  13. June 10, 2004 at 4:02 pm

    I agree with you.


  14. Pingback: Damn Foreigner
    June 19, 2004 at 12:15 pm

    You asked for it, here it is.
    native americans are being persecuted and oppressed even to this day my fine fearful friend. to this day we have to deal with the B.I.A. What other race of people has a department of the government dedicated to the management of thier resources, their blood quantum, their violated treaty rights, and their right to self determination? THE VIEWPOINT YOU ARE EXPRESSING OBVIOUSLY COMES FROM THE BELIEF THAT MIGHT MAKES RIGHT, OR MAYBE ITS WHITE MAKES RIGHT.
    The generation that oppresses the natives are very much alive and busy at that. The fact is the usa is nation building everywhere but here, because they have a closet full of skeletons.
    This is a fact that can be verified through the FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT. Investigate your federal authorities use of domestic counter-intelligence and false information campaigns directed towarde the AMERICAN INDIAN MOVEMENT.
    I know it must be hard to grapple with the thought that the red white and blue might have a black mark, but think about it, slavery, child labor, suffrage, civil rights for non-whites and about a dozen other struggles were denied importance and credibility the same way native rights are dismissed. Anybody paying taxes wants guarantees of representation.Where is the representation for the native victims of u.s. imperialism?
    The Louisiana Purchase is such an imaginary title, along with the land grants of New England and the Virginia colonies.
    Natives aren’t guaranteed the same protections by dual citizenship. a native citizen of one native nation cannot, by federal law also be a citizen of another native nation even if his/her parents are from that nation. It is not your zeal that worries me ,it is the sheeplike quality of your thought process. Don’t believe everything the system tells you, you know that alredy though don’t you.
    The fact is “ongoing and deliberate genocide” continues and is well documented.For more info contact “INTERNATIONAL INDIAN TREATY COUNCIL” , it is a N.G.O. that represents native voices and issues at the UNITED NATIONS arena.
    If you consider yourself enlightened to the modern ways of human thoght and compassion, educate yourself to some “real”ness, not just colonial rhetoric , please.

    Dave Warleader

  16. Geral Irons
    June 23, 2004 at 6:09 am

    Under U S Constitution states can not tax native american tribes. The constitution would have to be amended!

  17. Claudette Parazoo
    September 8, 2004 at 8:16 pm

    If what you say is true, then wherever Americans go in the world and have their successful discoveries or conquests, the people discovered/conquered should be paying income taxes to the USA.
    The <500> Native American treaties do not include agreements to taxation, but do include agreements made under extreme duress, that ceded land for various tradeoff–most of which were not honored. So therefore what was agreed to is not forthcoming but that which was not agreed to is hammered down to a defenseless people.

  18. Zack
    January 7, 2005 at 10:02 am

    who is to say that we took the indians land. it was everyones.
    sorry we killed them with our disease, but everything is about war and you have to fight for what you want. and we sholudnt have to pay for our ansesters problems. its not a problem now so they are fine. they need to pay taxes

  19. rossgirl
    January 31, 2005 at 12:59 pm


    The land was theirs to start with,they were the one that here first. if the land was everyones,why did the “americans” come to conquer land? Everyone and everything does not have to fight. the world fights on their own free-will. your right about our ansesters. They are the ones that did what ever they did, but we have to be ” man enough” to right their wrong if we need to. when the “americans” took the land from the natives, they gave them land they couldn’t use. Now that the natives found a way they can use the land and to make a profit the americans wont to take THEIR money. If you dont want them to get money then dont go to the casino.I strongly believe that the land that they are on was left for them so they should be able to keep every thing they make.

    PS this is my opinion and that is yours and I respect you for that.

  20. Brittany
    February 10, 2005 at 7:08 am

    I think that racism is not the answer in your article. I am a Native American and you don’t know what the Native Americans do with the money they recieve from the casino. Alot of tribes support the reservation with the money like put money in the clinics, the schools, and even are putting money aside for a center for people to go to to play ball, exercise or just for families to go to, to have some fun. So before you go and critize or anything do some research on the topic.

    Brittany, 14 years old, Menominee Indain. Email me back with your answer.

  21. gmsay
    March 19, 2005 at 7:49 pm

    I think that Indians are receiving preferential treatment with their casinos. Many of the casinos are Indian-run, but not Indian-owned. Non-Indian investors are funding and building these casinos and receiving millions upon millions for it. If these investors can create these casinos through tribes and walk away millionaires, they should have to pay taxes on it like everyone else.
    Further, I am nearly positive that Indians still have a monopoly on slot machines. Why should race tracks and like be restricted from using slot machines-one of the most profitable types of gaming-while Indian casinos get an unfair advantage of their slot monopoly. Why shouldn’t they pay taxes to compensate for their monopoly?
    Also, it has been concluded in numerous studies that casinos have an alarming effect on neighboring communities. They create gambling addicts, which leads to divorce, bankruptcy, marriage counseling, single mothers, etc. that cost the government millions to fund correction programs. The traffic is much more congested, and drunk drivers increase the accident fatality rate and make neighborhoods more dangerous. The crime rate increases. Theft and vandalism to nearby businesses and homes dramatically increases. The government has to pay for the fire and police departments, ambulence and health care. These taxes on gaming revenues would contribute to the poorer quality of life in neighboring communities imposed by their casinos. Why should Indians and investors be able to build Vegas-style casinos and be exempt from their impact on families and communities that they effect.
    Also, nearby businesses off reservations are going bankrupt and foreclosing because they cannot compete will the Vegas-style casinos putting up restaurants, cardrooms, bars, etc. Especially when there is ALSO NO SALES TAX on reservations. Why would someone go to a store and pay alot more when they can just go to a reservation and pay less for the same product? Indian casinos should be paying taxes on their revenues to compensate for cannabalizing the business in nearby communities.
    Additionally, I believe Indians are allowed to vote in our elections. They can support their cause by their votes. How is this taxation without representation? We cannot vote in their governmental decisions, and yet we are our communities are obviously effected by their decisions. It seems to be the other way around. Especially when almost all of their gaming profits come from non-Indians, mostly those who live in nearby communities. Essentially this is like a tax on nearby communities.
    Most of the people who go to these casinos are those who cannot afford it. Elderly, retired, and poor parents are wasting their money in slots around the clock. HOwever, they are not even told the odds of the slot machines. Indian casinos do not have to abide by state imposed regulations that non-Indian casinos must follow. Therefore, Indian casinos are able to rig the machine to any odds they wish, and can adjust the odds to change when someone is winning. Is this fair? Should the government not be allowed to tax this unfair advantage Indian casinos are taking of these non-Indian gamblers.
    Next, I have not read any comments having to do with Indian influence in the government. Indian tribal leaders do not have to disclose any political “donations” or candidate campaign funds they contribute UNLIKE EVERYONE ELSE. Consequently, Indian tribes have millions at their disposal to give to political officials, essentially buying them out. If the official votes in their favor for all related legislation,… . These officials will agree to this money because it pays for their campaigning, and such substantial “donations” or bribes can ensure their position in office. If the candidate objects to the tribes on moral grounds, the tribes simply present their money to their opponent. Is this preferential towards Indian tribes? How will Indians and non-Indian businesses receive equal rights if our governmental officials are being bought out by Indian tribes. If Indian gaming casinos were being taxes, the government would be receiving millions of dollars from their revenue, and both the government and the Indians would profit from their buying out the officials.

  22. Kevin
    June 12, 2005 at 12:26 pm

    I don’t mean any disrespect about the american Indians, I have learned that the Indians have suffered for a long time, and I can see that they are getting recognition out of casinos, and that’s good. However, nearly everyone I have talked to has been telling me that the Indians don’t have one cent in their pocket. What I mean is, it is possible that the Indians are getting a lot now? Don’t get me wrong, I agree that people like William Sherman was rotten to the Indians I admit, but that’s like the same as the south killed many blacks, or Joseph Stalin killed over 20 million catholics, etc.
    About the taxes, I don’t know. I’m now american Indian, and yes I was told in school about the sufferings of the Indians. Is it possible that the american Indians are getting lots of money now days?

  23. Perry
    November 14, 2005 at 7:02 am

    Ron, the oppression of the Indians is hardly over, and it is being committed as we speak. Mascots of National and College Sports teams have racist names to this day. The word Redsk!n is just as offensive as the “N” word, yet its the name of a National Sports Team. Not only that, but the logo of the Cleveland Indians was lifted directly from German Antisemetic Propaganda from WWII. Racism is alive and well in America today against Indians … and this doesn’t even include the recent swindling of Indians by members of Congress.

  24. Eric
    December 12, 2005 at 3:13 pm

    I’ve seen the effects that our nation’s “treaties” have had on the native population first hand. My Grandfather is Lakota, my aunt and cousins are Aleut. The constant handouts that are given by the federal government to fulfill treaties, do only one thing, keep the oppressed, oppressed. Until the natives desolve there “nations” and stop taking handouts and fully integrate into society will you see their “plight” resolved.

  25. March 6, 2013 at 11:20 am

    There has been a petition to stop some of the tax shelters offered to “Native Americans” I don’t know what makes them more native then the rest of us we are taxed on everything public and private why not them.

  26. Islands123
    October 18, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    I think it is just right that they be taxed on behalf of what they are earning in casinos. If the United States run by the meaning of equality, then it is just fair that they get taxed on the millions they generate in casinos. Since businesses are being tax why do we let majority pay tax and let thee others tax free. There is no equality in that so therefore I have to say they should be tax.

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