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Indian gaming is big business, getting bigger, speaker says

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Indian gaming has become an $8.2 billion industry and is continuing to grow, despite efforts from states such as Oklahoma to block casino initiatives, a federal gaming official says.

Nearly 200 tribes have gaming operations in 28 states, said Montie Deer, chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission.

The biggest boom is in California, where voters approved a measure allowing tribes to offer slot machines, he said.

California has 31 gaming tribes, but "approximately 54 have signed a new compact, so that means there are going to be 20 additional gaming tribes in the state of California," Deer said.

Deer spoke Tuesday at the Sovereignty Symposium, a forum sponsored by the Oklahoma Supreme Court and focusing on Indian law.

He said that when he became chairman of the regulatory commission in March 1999, it had 35 employees. It now has 76.

Tribes are using gaming money to send Indian students to school, to run schools, to establish medical clinics, to build homes and recreational facilities and to employ tribal members, he said.

"Most important to me is that Indian students are getting their chance to go to college," Deer said. "That didn't exist before Indian gaming money came along."

Deer is a member of the Okmulgee-based Creek Nation.
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