Casinos and consulting? Pandemic spurs tribes to diversify

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. (AP) — When the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut for 3 months in 2020, its entrepreneurs, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, experienced to reckon with decades of relying greatly on gambling as the tribe’s primary resource of revenue.

“The truth that the casino revenues went from thousands and thousands to zero overnight just absolutely reiterated the require for assorted earnings streams,” explained Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler.

The 1,000-member tribe has considering the fact that expanded its initiatives to get into the federal government contracting small business, making it one particular of a number of tribal nations to glance further than the casino business a lot more severely right after the coronavirus crisis. Tribal leaders and tribal small business gurus say the worldwide pandemic has been the most up-to-date and clearest signal that tribal governments with casinos can’t rely solely on slot equipment and poker rooms to guidance potential generations.

In Michigan, the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Want Band of Pottawatomi Indians, or Gun Lake Tribe, lately introduced a 25-calendar year program to build hundreds of acres in the vicinity of its casino into a corridor with housing, retail, manufacturing and a new 15-story lodge. A non-gambling entity owned by the Tiny River Band of Ottawa Indians, also in Michigan, is now marketing “NativeWahl” burger franchises to other tribes immediately after forming a 2021 partnership with Wahlburgers, the countrywide burger chain established by the movie star brothers Paul, Mark and Donnie Wahlberg.

Some tribes, with and with out casinos, have gotten associated in a large variety of non-gambling enterprises, these kinds of as trucking, construction, consulting, health care, genuine estate, cannabis and advertising and marketing over the earlier 10 years or more time although some others have been branching out more not too long ago.

“While business diversification can come with prices, its requirement became apparent throughout the early phases of the pandemic, when tribally owned casinos have been shut down to mitigate COVID-19 transmission and gaming-dependent tribes were still left with minor incoming profits,” in accordance to a new report from the Middle for Indian Place Development at the Federal Reserve Financial institution of Minneapolis.

The report identified that quite a few tribes are more and more accomplishing business enterprise with the federal govt, especially the U.S. Section of Defense.

The Mashantucket Pequots’ non-gambling entity, Command Holdings, last year made its premier acquisition to date: WWC Global, a Florida-based administration consulting company that predominantly performs with federal companies, like the defense and condition departments. WWC declared in December that it had been awarded a $37.5 million agreement supporting the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Company.

WWC World-wide CEO Jon Panamaroff applauded the Mashantucket Pequots’ on line casino and hospitality enterprise but noted that it can be matter to the “ups and downs of the market,” producing it essential to branch out economically. A member of the Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak, Alaska, he credited the Mashantucket Pequots’ tribal leaders with doubling down on diversification attempts throughout the pandemic alternatively of “shying away and making an attempt to hunker down.”

Butler explained the tribe hopes non-gambling revenues, including from a prepared spouse and children vacation resort with a 91,000-square-foot (8,450-square-meter) drinking water park that’s expected to open in 2025, will sooner or later comprise 50% to 80% of the Mashantucket Pequots’ portfolio, offering “stability and certainty” when another hard celebration certainly will happen.

“You believe about the fiscal disaster in ’08 and now COVID. And so, something’s likely to materialize once again,” Butler said. “We’

Even before the pandemic hit, some tribal casinos have been now experiencing competitive pressures from the advent of other gambling selections, like legalized on the internet wagering on sports activities and on line casino game titles in some states. At the identical time, regular patrons of brick-and-mortar casinos are receiving more mature.

“Tribal economies are at an inflection place for the reason that gaming markets are maturing across the U.S.,” reported Dawson Her Many Horses, head of Native American banking for Wells Fargo and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. “As on line casino revenues flatten, tribes will be looking for new business opportunities in other industries.”

Terri Fitzpatrick, a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan and the Michigan Economic Advancement Corporation’s chief actual estate and international attraction officer, has pointed out “tremendous growth” in non-gambling-related tribal organizations above the past 10 years in Michigan. Most tribes inside the state now engage in some sort of financial enhancement other than casinos.

The pandemic, Fitzpatrick mentioned, really highlighted the importance of these a system, offered the money effect of COVID-19 on tribal universities, health treatment centers, aid for older grown ups, working day care courses and other companies.

“It was not about a reduction of profits,” she stated. “It was a loss of, ‘What we can do for our local community and in our group.’”

The Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi in Michigan observed its productive casino shut down in the early months of the pandemic. But the economical blow was blunted in portion by the tribe’s non-gambling enterprises, which includes a agency that’s involved in drone improvement for the federal authorities and was deemed “essential.”

The tribe’s economic enhancement entity, Waséyabek Improvement Enterprise LLC, now has mapped out a approach to make at minimum 1-third of the profits wanted to assist the tribe from actions other than gambling by 2040, its president and CEO, Deidra Mitchell, claimed.

That does not imply tribes are supplying up on gambling. Some are even increasing it. The gambling and hospitality entity owned by the Mohegan Tribe in japanese Connecticut announced this thirty day period it is partnering with a New York developer to try out and safe a New York City gambling license and create a proposed entertainment district in Manhattan’s East Facet. In the meantime, the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma is aspect of one more consortium that wishes to create a casino and amusement complicated on New York’s Coney Island.

The Countrywide Indian Gaming Affiliation described in August that $39 billion in gross gambling income was generated in fiscal 12 months 2021, the most in tribal gambling history. That determine, which accounts for 243 tribes across 29 states, greater 40% around the previous calendar year.

Patrick Davison, vice president of Native American gaming and finance at PNC Bank, claimed he’s been working with tribal officials who nonetheless want to construct casinos but also want to prevent overbuilding. He claimed the pandemic was “a true eye-opener for tribes” as officials look at their tribes’ futures in the gambling enterprise.

“There’s a great deal more thought currently being put into it,” he stated.

Minnie Arwood

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