The challenge of driving tribal gaming forward in 2017

The challenge of driving tribal gaming forward in 2017

Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Kevin Brown is the chairman at the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority

Kevin Brown, a member of the Tribal Council and chairman at the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, is one of the many expert speakers at the Tribal Gaming seminar running on the second day of ICE.  With political implications of a Trump administration, diversifying beyond gaming, and maintaining Tribal Sovereignty in a time of increasing adversity all critical concerns, there is plenty of topics to address for the $30 billion tribal gaming industry.

Totally Gaming: Could you explain what role gaming plays in Indian country and for your tribe, and why you make distinction between tribal and commercial gaming?

Kevin Brown: Native American tribal gaming is a vehicle in which federally recognised tribes are able to raise critical revenue to sustain their aboriginal governments and protect their distinct cultures.  The distinction between tribal gaming and commercial gaming under US law is very distinct, while revenue from commercial gaming can be used for any legal purpose, revenue from tribal gaming must be used to support and protect tribal government, culture, and the health and welfare of their citizens.

TG: Whenever new gambling regulation is introduced, it tends to come coupled with social investment obligations to smooth its passage. What lessons can be learned in that regard from tribal gaming regulation? What processes need to be put in place to make that happen?

KB: As stated in question one, essentially all revenue from tribal gaming must be used for social/governmental investment. It is true that we have some social obligations in the realm of taxes paid, and contributions to important organisations like Councils on Problem Gambling to insure that we are doing our part to care for the small number (<<2%) of gamers that are problem gamblers.

TG: Tribal gaming is really seen as limited to the United States although nowadays that’s not really the case. What is driving tribes’ expansion to new markets?

KB: Although often times tribal gaming in more rural areas is less about revenue and more about employment opportunities for some of the  poorest of Americans, in certain instances like Mohegan’s we have been able to build, because of our proximity to large urban areas like Boston and New York, mega destination resorts.  The expertise gained by tribes as fortunate as Mohegan and others like them have allowed them to invest in non-tribal opportunities in commercial gaming.  What drives that investment is a need to protect their distinct cultures and use the unique expertise they have gained, coupled with the reality that expanding our gaming portfolio beyond the reservation minimises the risk of a portfolio that might otherwise, and mistakenly, rely only on reservation based revenue.

TG: You’ve mentioned how ‘an affinity for Native American culture in Korea’ informed your decision to invest in the country. Can you expand on that? Where else might you find that affinity?

KB: I think our success in Korea was primarily based on our demonstration to build and manage one of the most unique and successful properties in the world.  I think the Korean’s affinity for Native American people was just the final push for our selection over our competitors.   The “land bridge theory” though challenged by some, does lead to a belief that Native Americans were first generation Siberian, and that we have a common ancestry – additionally, our tribal culture is of interest to Korean tourists.  We believe strongly, however, that there are new markets around the globe where our exceptional product would fit well not only because of our heritage, but because of our demonstrated world class product.

TG: How do you evaluate new markets to expand to and what geographies are particularly interesting to you?

KB: There are multiple global and stateside locations we are considering in the interest of expanding and diversifying our revenue streams and portfolio.  There are multiple factors that we evaluate including population density, disposable income, and ease of access, and of course the current state of gambling legislation as related to that ease of access factor.

TG: While at ICE you’re going to meet up with British politicians; what is the value of this kind of government-to-government relations with the UK? How could it benefit your tribe and what you’re looking to achieve?

KB: We are very excited to meet with other elected officials while in the UK.  At the Mohegan Nation, we have a historically significant connection to the crown dating back to the 18th century.  The first ordained native minister and member of our Mohegan Tribe, Samson Occum, traveled to the UK in the year 1766 to meet on a government to government basis in order to raise money for the what would become Dartmouth College.  King George and William Legge, the Earl of Dartmouth, personally donated. In the present day, we are working to diversify our business ventures outside of gaming. We believe that we have an important prospect for sovereign-to-sovereign business in the renewable energy sector that can provide mutual benefit to both nations.

Find out more about the tribal gaming seminar at ICE 2017 by clicking here

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