Las Vegas, Nevada (October 05, 2021) – Global Gaming Expo (G2E) officially kicked off their gaming show at the Sands Expo with a day full of panels. Among those discussions were the National Indian Gaming Association Chairman and two influential tribal leaders in Indian Country. The panel entitled "Tribal Gaming's Recovery" centered around the COVID-19 impacts on tribal government gaming. The panel moderated by Victor Rocha, owner, and editor of Pechanga.net, led the discussion with panelists, that included Ernie Stevens, Jr., Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, Stephanie Bryan, Tribal Chair and CEO for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Alabama and Bernadine Burnette, President of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation in Arizona.
The COVID-19 pandemic rocked the economic foundation of tribal gaming. Even with half-filled hotels, socially distanced-casino floors, and shuttered restaurants, many tribes are still optimistic about the industry's future. In this year's tribal gaming leadership session, attendees heard perspectives on the current state of play, how tribal gaming is recovering compared to commercial gaming, and what the future of gaming will look like in the coming years.
National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr. welcomed the participants, welcomed the G2E attendees, and spoke about the importance of continuing to combat the COVID-19 virus. "I think it's imperative to be able to appreciate what you know, what these masks and sanitizers stand for. All these little bitty things that seem like such a task for everybody are the most significant things we emphasize because we want folks to know that our industry is on its feet, and we're doing well and doing good things. He added, "That is because we are taking all precautions, making vaccinations, wearing masks, social distancing our priority throughout our gaming industry. From the onset, our gaming managers, gaming regulators, and tribal leaders immediately went to work to protect our families, friends, community, employees, and the world around us as we began re-opening our gaming properties.
Stevens added, "Wherever you go in Indian country, you will regularly see a gaming regulator, a tribal leader, and our gaming professionals always right there on the front line, doing what they need to do to keep our system safe."
Chairwoman Stephanie Bryan recalled, "I will never forget, March 13, 2019. That is when we closed our first property in Alabama." She shared the initial uncertainty of taking on the unknown impacts of COVID-19 on her citizens and the overall economic uncertainty of their gaming industry and the cross jurisdictions they have gaming businesses in, as well as the other economic development businesses outside of our gaming entities. She said, "It was a business decision. We invested in the safety of our community; our employees are patrons. Throughout the challenges, we stayed in it together, and we are much stronger today."
She said, "We began to work, and I think the key important thing for me is, I have a strong executive team in leadership who put safety first for our community, our people, our employees, and the patrons on the gaming floor. We formed a medical advisory team that consisted of epidemiologists, pulmonologists, and health experts who began to guide us before the state-mandated that we close our facilities, but that's who we are.
We wanted to protect the employees and patrons first while we figured out our plan." Bryan also shared that they continue to pay their employees throughout the process, including their health insurance and 401 K plans, as an investment in the welfare of the employees, the community, and tribal members.
President Burnette also shared their process upon facing the COVID-19 pandemic. She said, "The day we heard the declaration of the pandemic, we had no idea what that meant and where we're going to go and what we were going to do." Like Bryan, President Burnette said, "We had to put our minds together with our leadership and our medical team. She shared that they created their "Covid Team" to keep the community safety first and foremost. "We took care of our tribal members and our employees with our little savings because we had to make sure everyone was safe."
Burnette shared that Fort McDowell was also in the third year of construction, rebuilding their casino. She said, "The pandemic had a ripple effect on everything." Despite the delays impacted by COVID, the Fort McDowell Tribe ultimately opened its new Casino almost a year ago. "We are taking every precaution necessary to keep our community safe."
Chairman Steven told the audience that early 2020 projections expected Indian gaming revenues to be down more than 50 percent over 2019 levels. Thanks to our work with Congress that delivered critical health and economic resources to combat COVID-19, we limited the impacts.
In August, the National Indian Gaming Commission affirmed the success of our efforts when it released the FY2020 Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) totals. The NIGC reported a 20 percent decrease from 2019's record-setting revenue of $34.6 billion. The tribal government gaming industry's comeback during the worst pandemic in our lifetime produced $27.8 billion in Indian gaming revenues for 2020. It is a resounding affirmation of the hard work our industry leaders took, working in close coordination with our health experts and our employees.
Upon closing Chairman Stevens reiterated, "The commitment of tribal leaders, working with the health experts and community leaders, has resulted in Native Americans having the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the nation. Indian Country has become the model for broader vaccination efforts across the country." He added, "Without question, the pandemic has substantially impacted the tribal government gaming industry. But thanks to the work of our organization and our member tribes limited the impacts, saving countless lives and thousands of jobs for American families."
Stevens then presented President Burnette and Chairwoman Byran with the National Indian Gaming Association "badge of honor" pin.
G2E organizers have implemented Nevada adopted updated CDC Mask Guidance, announced on July 30, 2021, in line with federal, state, and local recommendations and the requirements of the Venetian Expo, all individuals are required to wear a face-covering while attending G2E
In September, G2E further announced the implementation show vaccine requirement that mandates all attendees, exhibitors, media, speakers, and American Gaming Association (AGA) and staff to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination to attend the expo.
The weeklong G2E, held annually at the Sands Expo and Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada will run from October 4-7, 2021.
For additional information regarding the Indian gaming panels and workshops, go to the G2E website at www.globalgamingexpo.com.