Assessing the Impact of Indian Gaming on American Indian Nations: Is the House Winning?


  • The first author will share all data and coding for replication purposes. For space considerations, all results not reported in tabular form are also available upon request from the authors. This article has followed a lengthy path and has benefitted from the comments of many people along the way, including several attendees at the 2010 annual meeting of the Western Social Science Association. A special thanks to the reviewers and editor for their assistance and feedback. The authors would also like to thank the Harvard Project for American Indian Economic Development for making the data used in this study public.



The objective of this article is to examine the impact of Indian gaming on reservation conditions in the contiguous American states following passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988.


Utilizing 1990 and 2000 Census data for 330 Indian nations, a pretest/posttest design permits a comparison of nongaming nations to three different types of gaming nations on eight economic measures, while controlling for multiple tribal characteristics and considering the effects of certain state contextual factors confronting nations due to location.


The analysis reveals (1) that the overall impact of gaming, while generally positive, is not as extensive after controlling for certain tribal features, (2) that there are differential effects evident across the three types of gaming nations, and (3) that the state context makes a difference in influencing the relationship between gaming and reservation conditions. The most substantial impacts are for a small subset of nations with Class III gaming and making per capita payments to their members in larger, wealthier states prohibiting non-Indian casinos.


These results challenge some of the core assumptions about Indian gaming radically changing the poor economic conditions endemic to Indian country.