It’s been a long time coming, but—little thanks to the white men on the hill—the Creek Indian tribe in Atmore has been enjoying some significant return on investment in recent years.
According to the annual Indian Gaming Industry Report, published in March by Casino City Press, the Poarch Creek Indian Gaming revenue grew 61 percent in 2010, the most recent year for which data was available. PCI Gaming—the corporate arm of the only Native American Indian tribe in Alabama, which operates casinos in Montgomery and Wetumpka as well as their tribal home of Atmore—also had double digit revenue gains the previous two years: 34 percent in 2009 and 45 percent in 2008.
It doesn’t take a bookie to lay off some of PCI’s 2010 gain on the state’s bust of PCI’s immediate competition—electronic bingo operations at non-Indian gambling centers around the state. But that’s not the big vig here, according to PCI Gaming President Jay Dorris.
“Go back before all of that happened, ” Dorris told the Press Register’s George Altman. “We had already established very strong, double-digit growth patterns, and that’s going to continue, regardless of what happens.”
The big breakthrough for the Creeks came in January 2009, when they opened the Wind Creek Casino in Atmore—a $240 million investment that came after 25 years of struggling to get the state to negotiate in good faith under terms of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Beginning in 1988, the Poarch asked the state to agree to Class III gambling, so they could step up from bingo halls to full-blown casinos, enabling them to compete on the same level as Mississippi tribal casinos.
Secretaries of the Interior—supposedly the next recourse after the state balks—also ducked. And federal courts ruled state sovereignty impervious to Indian attack.
Not until non-Indian casinos like Victoryland introduced electronic bingo machines and seem to get away with it did it seem feasible for the Poarch to make their big investment plunge.
Just three months later, in the April issue of Business Alabama, we reported operations were booming. And they haven’t stopped since.
“When you look at what exists around Alabama right now, and what Wind Creek is when it comes to gaming options, we’re without equal in the state, ” Dorris told Business Alabama in 2009. “We put a lot of time and effort into providing a facility that would be competitive with, and in our opinion, better than what you’re going to find in Mississippi. We have a major investment and commitment to the quality of the facility and the quality of the gaming experience there.”
Before opening Wind Creek, the PCI finally got the state to come to an agreement. PCI did not get the Class III gambling it wanted, with roulette wheels and baccarat tables. But it did get an apparent endorsement of electronic bingo machines—that grey area that the state suddenly clamped down on for non-Indian casinos.
And for as long as it doesn’t break its treaty with the Poarch, the state gets something too. According to a study by the National Indian Gaming Association, just in that opening year of 2009, the Poarch Creek Tribe’s Wind Creek enterprise generated $10.3 million in state government revenue.
By Chris McFadyen