Ho-Chunk Nation Gaming Commissioner Cori Blaschke was presented with her second National Indian Gaming Association’s (NIGA) Chairman’s Leadership Award. NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr. presented the award. “It’s been such an honor to be presented with the NIGA Chairman’s Leadership Award for the second time,” Commissioner Blaschke said, “I have never expected to receive such high recognition. I am surrounded by leaders in the industry that deserve this award.”
Indian Gaming experienced a boom after the US Supreme Court decision in 1987, California v. Cabazon, which held that states that authorized gambling could not ban gambling on Indian reservations. That ruling led Congress to enact the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) the following year. IGRA created the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), which is granted authority to oversee the framework for the rules around gambling on reservations across the United States.
The Ho-Chunk Nation Gaming Commission is the tribe’s independent regulatory authority and is responsible for oversight, training, and enforcement of gaming operations. Commissioners regularly review and analyze tribal, state, and federal regulations and provide recommendations when amendments are desired. The Commission monitors all gaming operations within the Nation and is required to refer violations to the Office of the Tribal Inspector or the Department of Justice.
The institution of gaming by tribes supports sovereignty and promotes economic development, which has been a challenge for many tribal reservations. The primary intentions of the regulations are to promote safe and honest gambling, ensuring the tribes are the primary beneficiaries of gaming revenues, and defending tribal gaming from corruption and organized crime.
Prior to the pandemic, the industry was estimated at $35 billion through 289 tribes in 29 states. While actual tribal revenues ismuch less, the funds are very helpful to those tribes. Federal lawrequires that net revenues from any tribal gaming can only be used for five purposes:
(1) To fund tribal government operations or programs;
(2) To provide for the general welfare of the Indian tribe and its members;
(3) To promote tribal economic development;
(4) To donate to charitable organizations;
(5) Or to help fund operations of local government agencies.
The Ho-Chunk Nation uses a significant amount of funding to augment or replace federal and state programs and services, which often place restrictions on who can qualify or limitations on the delivery of the programs and services. One of the limitations has been a trending topic for discussion; once innocuous, the requirement that programs are designed using “evidence-based practices.”
Former Executive Director of Social Services Stephanie Lozanosays, “Grants usually try to make us fit into their model. Having our own funding means we can create something that works for our communities rather than having someone who doesn’t know us prescribing what they think will work.”
The child welfare program operates similarly to Wisconsin counties, but cases can be wholly administered through the tribe – through Ho-Chunk Nation Social Services and Trial Courts. When tribal members are placed outside of the home or when they are ordered to receive services, the tribe pays. The total cost of this one program is in the millions.
The Ho-Chunk Nation administers hundreds of programs covering education, health, social services, housing, workforce development, heritage and cultural protection, languagepreservation, natural resources conservation, and emergency services. About 25 percent of the population lives within 25 miles of the tribal headquarters in Black River Falls, so the Ho-Chunk Nation operates up to nine satellite offices across Wisconsin with one each in Chicago, Illinois and Saint Paul, Minnesota.
There’s a common misconception about Indians – they all get free money. While some tribes may issue a per capita distribution – a portion of the revenue – not all casinos generate enough money. The Ho-Chunk Nation has often sent out payments to tribal members knowing that several tribal members might not have access to tribal programs, with an estimated 25% of tribal members living further than 100 miles from the tribal headquarters. Several tribal members are still living in poverty conditions, so they can prioritize their own critical needs, like rent/mortgage, gas, and cell phone bills. Regardless of how the money is spent, it often stimulates the local economy.
While tribal gaming raises the socioeconomic outlook for both tribal members and non-Indians most visibly throughemployment, the net profits are seen as fundamental tosustaining tribal sovereignty. “Every employee, whether they work in the casino or in the government office, is integral to the success of our Nation,” says Vice President Karena Thundercluod, “and they work so hard because our future is in their hands.”
“I’ve been on the Gaming Commission since 2014 and am constantly learning from those around me,” Commissioner Blaschke says, “As hard and as stressful as it is, it’s my love for the Ho-Chunk Nation that keeps me passionate about my job so that we can continue to flourish in Tribal gaming.”