Bayfield, WI – December 29, 2021 – Yesterday, National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr., visited the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indian community and the Legendary Waters Resort & Casino employees to recognize their outstanding work and commitment to help lessen the COVID-19 curb in their community.
Stevens said, "You all exemplify the strength of our tribes and industry because, throughout this pandemic, you stand firm, strong, and committed to fighting on behalf of your tribal citizens, their safety, and the economic security of your tribe. Your work is a role model for tribes throughout Indian country in our fight against COVID."
Stevens shared with the group that reports have shown that Native Americans have a higher vaccination rate than any other major racial or ethnic group, serving as a model for broader vaccination efforts across the country.
"For nearly two years, tribes have imposed the most stringent safeguards to stop the spread of the virus. Since the beginning of 2021, Tribal Leaders ramped up education efforts about the benefits of continuing to wear masks, getting vaccinated, and taking every action available to curb the pandemic."
He added, "Today, we are now facing a new variant – the COVID-19 Omicron variant surging through the United States, causing additional concerns by the rapid spread of the new variant.
"We cannot waver. Get vaccinated and boosted, wear your mask, and continue to do everything necessary to do your part. Our goal with this new variant, as it has been since the beginning, is to lessen the spread with the ultimate goal of eliminating this virus."
"I am here today to not only thank all of you for your leadership but to continue to encourage all in Indian Country to be diligent."
Stevens reported that the economic backdrop of our tribal government gaming industry was affected throughout these unprecedented times. Early 2020 revenue projections showed that tribal gaming would be down more than 50 percent over 2019 levels.
However, Indian gaming operations began securely and safely opening their doors. Early indications for the first two quarters of 2021 show that Tribal gaming is rebounding faster than expected while maintaining some of the most stringent COVID-safety protocols for all employees and patrons in the industry. Our tribal gaming regulators and operators led the success of this bounce-back effort with a safety-first approach. All so essential, everyone is a leader in this effort.
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.
Stevens praised the tribal gaming industry, "Our 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 of all our industry leaders working in close coordination with our health experts and our employees."
Stevens added, "At the forefront of protecting our gaming industry are the many Indian gaming employees and regulators, including all of you who stood firm in your leadership roles and commitment to keeping the gaming facilities and visitors safe."
"Each of you is responsible for successfully taking all precautions necessary to doing everything from taking temperatures to wiping down machines and doing everything possible within their means to build upon the economic growth of our industry. I cannot emphasize enough that everybody has leadership responsibility in this battle, every step of the way."
In closing, Stevens said, "Remember, we must not tire. I know it is easy to feel the emotional impacts of this pandemic, especially during the holiday season. Still, history has shown that we are resilient people, and I thank you for your commitment."
As part of his day, Stevens also visited the local Boys & Girls Club, where he presented the club with a Spirit of Sovereignty donation from the National Indian Gaming Association. He sat down and joined the children for lunch and was also able to watch the group play basketball and do crafts. The day ended with Stevens joining the group for a team photo.