Southwest Tribal Casinos Face Worrisome Outlook for Recovery

Posted on: September 9, 2020, 07:46h. 

Last updated on: September 9, 2020, 11:54h.

Tribal casinos in the rural Southwest may be the most vulnerable to slow economic recovery, one noted economist warns.

Many regions are on the tribal casinos
Joseph Kalt, a political economist who heads the Harvard Project on American Indian economic development, warns he is fairly pessimistic about the speed of recovery that gaming will see because of the pandemic. (Image: COVID-19 Hub)

Tourism is a key revenue generator for casinos in Indian Country. That’s particularly so during the summer months, Joseph Kalt, a political economist who heads up the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, told

With a second wave of COVID-19 surging in the Southwest, the outlook for recovery for tribal gaming properties in the West is not positive, Kalt warned.

The lack of revenue has led tribal governments to cut back on services and benefits, according to Rory Dilweg of Ocotillo Law and Policy Partners, a Colorado-based attorney who specializes in tribal law. “The decline in revenue caused by COVID-19 has been devastating for tribes.”

Leaning on Casino Revenue

Many Western regions are dependent on tribal casinos for revenue, according to the Harvard Project in a report released in May.

In Arizona, tribal gaming supports more than 51,000 jobs and $1.9 billion in worker income, the report said. In California, tribal gaming was linked to 176,000 jobs and more than $8.6 billion in salaries.

Many [casinos] are hospitality-based, and as long as both restrictions on and preferences against travel and gatherings persist, tribal economies will struggle,” said Miriam Jorgensen, research director for both the Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona and The Harvard Project, to

Earlier this month, the Arizona Department of Gaming reported that revenue from tribal casinos in the first quarter of the current fiscal year was 52 percent of what it was in the same quarter last year.

The state received $13.9 million from the casinos. Much of this decrease is due to casino closures related to the pandemic. The shuttering led to anxiety for the tribes, their workers, and communities, as well as the states in which they operate.

Last month, a recent national survey from the Seattle Entertainment Group revealed that 97 percent of tribal casino executives said the $8 billion in coronavirus relief funds is insufficient to mitigate the economic impact caused by the pandemic. Just three percent of casino management officials taking part in the survey are confident they can resume normal operations by the end of 2020.

Human Cost

Jorgensen cautions the impact on tribes will be more than just economic, especially for the Najavo Nation and the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

“Almost every family in these communities has been affected in a profound way by COVID-19,” Jorgensen told “Everyone in the Navajo Nation knows someone who got very ill, nearly everyone knows someone who died.”