From the September 2002 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

September 1, 2002

A Real Gamble

Dean Parisian criticizes the investing conservatism of Native American council leaders who will only put tribal funds into ultra-safe investments. But are there really so few tribes who want to invest in anything other than money market funds? What about all those casino profits they supposedly have?

True, some of the larger tribal entities have taken investing seriously. The Navajo of the southwest United States, for instance, have engaged the services of Oaks, Pennsylvania-based SEI Investments, according to Parisian. And things must be pretty lucrative for REDW Financial Advisors of Albuquerque, too; when asked if she were willing to be interviewed about her firm's involvement with investment management of Native American tribes' casino revenues, planner Virginia Stanley of REDW responded that it's been immensely profitable--and wouldn't say more. "I don't see how it could possibly benefit me" to tell you about it, she said coolly.

Yet most tribes aren't rolling in casino profits. Of the 562 federally recognized Indian tribes, less than half (201 tribes) are involved in gaming operations, according to the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA). Of the tribes who are involved in gaming, there are a few whose gaming efforts have proved immensely profitable to their members. But many are not; indeed, as NIGA spokeswoman Carla Nicholas points out, many tribes operate casinos primarily to generate employment for the tribal members, not for the revenues.

And Parisian isn't convinced that casinos are the best way to help the Native American people improve their lot in life, anyway, since it's a little like telling people to eat nutritious, well-balanced meals and then making them work every day in a candy store. "Most people just want to talk about how successful Indian gaming is," he says, "but no one's talking about the gambling addictions, the breakdown of the family." Sure, the casinos generate employment, he says, but then you have employees who work all week, pick up their paychecks, and turn around and head directly for the slot machines, where they gamble it away. "It's teaching a 'get something for nothing' mentality. Where do we get a work ethic here? Where do we build economic self-sufficiency?" he says. "Indian gaming has only been around for 12 years, and I think the jury is still out."

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