"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 11 April 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Custer's Last Hand



It's so hard to be cynical these

days that when you find a

well-marinated piece of

shamelessness like paid

political announcements for

tribal gambling, you really

savor it. The California Nevada

Indian Gaming Association has

been treating the residents of

the western US to a series of TV

spots, meant to prove once and

for all that gambling really is



Against a gentle black-and-white

montage of school buses and

Central Casting tribal elders, a

gravelly good-Indian baritone

plods through a usual-suspects

list of community benchmarks -

better schools, better jobs,

health care for the elderly -

all paid for with the 10-spots

we saps lose at blackjack. "With

Indian gaming, there is work to

do," our friend concludes,

"Thank you." No sweat, chief.


Despite what America's Funniest

Home Videos (or the six o'clock

news, for that matter) might

lead you to believe, TV doesn't

do things by accident. The state

of California is currently

playing Indian giver in its

negotiations for tribal gaming

"compacts," and the ads could be

a shot across Governor Pete

Wilson's bow. The governor

deserves the opposition, of

course. With his bland

earnestness and spooky

resemblance to Charles

Palantine, the presidential

candidate in Taxi Driver, Wilson

is The Man made flesh.



But even with statehouse goons

from Arizona to New Jersey

trying to put the kibosh on

Native gaming operations, you

have to wonder how necessary

such campaign ads are. Most

governors are too strung out on

the crack of state lottery

revenues to bother with Indian

gaming's comparatively small

stakes. And as far as public

opinion goes, that battle was

won long ago: Who wants to be

seen robbing Native Americans of

the first successful living

they've had since Cortez?


If you consider them simply as

ads for a casino, however,

CNIGA's ads make a lot of sense.

The main difference between

the Mashantucket Pequot nation's

Foxwoods in Connecticut and

Caesars Palace - besides the

fact that Caesars' evocation of

a romantic past is more

believable - is the hook. For

Indian casinos, the come-on is

not bright lights or showgirls,

but something you thought money

couldn't buy - a clean

conscience. In Lost in America,

Albert Brooks made a sales pitch

for a casino "with heart," and

got laughed out of town. Times

change. TV spots in Vegas can

wow you with Wayne Newton and

Shecky Greene, but only tribal

casinos can claim to be helping

humanity. As a money lure, the

notion of helping out Native

Americans is worth a thousand

Jerry Lewis telethons.



Surprisingly, that appeal lasts

while you're on the casino

floor. When you lose a few

C-notes at a "traditional"

casino, you feel like - well,

like an idiot. As you should. At

best, your money is going toward

the down payment on a new Trump

Princess. But when you go bust

for the Minnesota Ojibwa nation,

you're giving something back to

the community, and your money's

going to pay for, like, schools

and hospitals and stuff.

Reparations never felt so good.

Sure, you're walking out wearing

a barrel, but you're feeling 10

feet tall!


Viewed in the context of payback,

all the most irksome qualities

of a casino become palatable:

That's not just a cheesy floor

show; it's a unique cultural

happening. You're not just

throwing money away on craps,

you're exchanging an abstract

form of wampum. Even when you

know you're wasting a fortune on

cheap crap at the gift shop, you

can always remind yourself that

you're just role-reversing a

scene your ancestors played many

times - getting fleeced by wily

prospectors. As Homer Simpson

says, "It works on so many




This may make the CNIGA spots the

first example of absolute truth

in gambling advertising. Unlike

the Illinois lottery billboard

ad that advises residents of a

Chicago ghetto, "This could be

your ticket out," or Steve

Wynn's absurd attempt to pass

gambling off as family-friendly

fun, these ads cut right to the

chase: "We win when you lose."

And what a win! In the two

decades since Native Americans

discovered they could get more

with the devil's means than they

could with Russell Means, tribal

gaming has grown into a US$5

billion industry. And it

continues to grow despite a

nationwide backlash against

gambling that has taken a chunk

out of Nevada's hide, and left

Atlantic City's beached carcass

stinking up the Jersey Shore

from Cape May to Sandy Hook.


Of course, not all tribal casinos

are as slick and lucrative as

Foxwoods. Nor should they try to

be. Maintaining a homegrown look

is crucial to the white-guilt

dynamic of a tribal casino - bad

news for the posse of

consultants who promise to put a

high-tech gloss on tribal

operations. At the Foxwoods,

where things are polished down

to the last pimento in the last

olive, the charm is lost. Better

to stick with the out-of-the-way

spots, where they try harder.

The Cheyenne-Arapaho nation in

Oklahoma, one of the poorest

tribes in the country, recently

took a bath in lobbying expenses

in a futile effort to gain back

some choice real estate that the

government is using for

"scientific experiments." Could

it have been visions of roulette

that inspired this gamble?



But this is one capitalist tide

that The Man can't hold back. No

wonder the shysters who control

traditional gaming are striving

to suppress any more growth on

the reservations. They know

they're fighting a losing

battle. Given the choice, would

you rather have your money end

up in John Ascuaga's pocket or the

Oneida Indians'? And since your

chances of losing in any casino

are lots better than your

chances of winning, it only

makes sense to gamble in the

place where when your wallet

loses, your spirit wins. Stupid

fucking white man, done in by

his own vices at last. Tribal

gaming may yet turn out to be

the way the Indians reconquer

the American continent. And as

long as my highball's full and

the dice are hot, they can have

it. See you at the tables, Kemo


courtesy of BarTel D'Arcy

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