According to Casino City’s North American Gaming Almanac, the growth of gambling across the U.S. from 2001 to 2013 was substantial, but not compared to tribal gaming over the same period. So what does that mean for tribal marijuana?

According to the report, revenues from things like casinos, racetracks, and lotteries grew 41 percent in that twelve year period. Nevada generates about 12 percent of the stunning 2013 industry total of $96.42 billion in revenue. But in that same time period tribal gambling revenue rose 116 percent, with an industry total of $28.3 billion in 2013.

Photo Credit: davidgsteadman cc
Photo Credit: davidgsteadman cc

And while that number may seem initially paltry compared to the commercial gambling total, but the sheer greater amount of growth—especially in a period that bridges before, during, and after a recession—is nothing to sneeze at. And with the federal government giving Native American Tribes the right to legalize, cultivate, and distribute marijuana on tribal lands without intervention, it could be an indicator of where the marijuana industry is headed. And if it is, that’s a great thing for tribes. 

“With the gaming agreement [in 1988] came the ability of tribes to fund their own government and hire lawyers that weren’t legal aid attorneys,” said Lael Echo-Hawk, a Native law attorney at Garvey Schubert Barer, in an interview with LXBN over the summer. “And that 30 years have really yielded an a boom in economic development and access to financial independence. Litigation takes a lot of time and money…[and now] there’s this ability for tribes to look at their legal situation and do something about it.”

But as Hilary Bricken wrote for Canna Law Blog, there’s still some wariness of the federal government’s involvement—as you would expect:

Tribes are no strangers to compacts with states. Tribal gaming laws and the litigation surrounding them established that tribal-state compacts are mandatory for Class III gaming on tribal lands under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA). According to Congress, “the express purpose of the IGRA was to balance the Indians’ interest in tribal sovereignty with the states interest in guarding its citizens from corrupt gaming activities and organized crime infiltration.” The compacts were designed to allow tribal and state governments to come to a “business” agreement regarding gaming, a major source of revenue for gaming tribes. Many tribes view IGRA as an excessive restraint on tribal sovereignty and resent how it can constrain their ability to generate tribal income.

Though HB 2000 does not mirror IGRA, it clearly reflects the State’s desire to control tribal interactions with the state’s marijuana industry and we have already heard from some tribes that are not keen to sign on. 

But when the first tribal marijuana compact between the state and the Suquamish Tribe of Washington happened only last month it seemed to be a good, if not perfect agreement. As Echo-Hawk wrote on her blog Smoke Signals:

Besides providing a template for how a Tribe might participate in a state-regulated MJ industry, I believe this Compact serves as another example of how Tribes and States can work collaboratively together to provide economic opportunities for both governments. Too often, we see States fighting Tribes. While Washington is not yet perfect, State politicians must acknowledge the importance of the Native vote and deal with Tribes on a government-to-government basis.

Assuming the federal government sticks to their word, marijuana could follow gambling’s example and grow even faster on tribal land.