Casino Profits Help Cherokee Nation Tribal Members

Monday, October 9th 2006, 10:41 am
By: News On 6

Oklahoma’s Indian casinos generate millions of dollars a year.

News on 6 reporter Heather Lewin says members of the Cherokee Nation benefit from those profits.

Hundreds, and some nights, thousands of people, visit the Cherokee Casino in Catoosa every day.

Combining all of the tribe's casinos, Cherokee Nation officials say most of the money, about $130-million last year, goes to operating expenses and another $75-million to payroll. It is money employees take home and spend in their communities. That leaves about $69-million in profits, which goes to the tribe.

Cherokee Nation Chief Chad Smith: "Unlike a private corporation where it goes to shareholders, goes out of state, goes someplace else. Every gaming dollar helps Oklahomans, the Cherokee people get back on their feet."

Last year, 75-percent of profits went to the Cherokee Nation's job growth fund, which invests in non-gaming related businesses. The rest goes to the tribe's general fund, where it's sent through a budgeting process and is appropriated just like any other government body.

The News on 6 asked Chad Smith about the intense public interest in casino profits. “We could ask the same questions of your major corporations, you could ask the same questions of your state government or city government and we're happy to be transparent, but actually what people need to understand is what a great contributor the Cherokee Nation is to Oklahoma."

Under an agreement between the tribe and the state, the Cherokee Nation also pays a compact fee. Last year, that meant $2-million of casino money went to Oklahoma public schools.

The rest of the profits are spent on programs like one that provides the supplies and tribal members work together, building their own homes. Tribal member Waite Chuchalate: "it's an experience you won't forget, building your own house." Organizers say not only does it help people become more self-sufficient, it creates a better community.

The Chuchalate family says they're grateful to friends and neighbors and can't wait to help the next person. "Someday I'll be able to tell my grandkids that I'm the one that built this house, me and the community."