“When there is a downturn or when there isn’t any economic development going on locally, the Tribes are always there to create jobs and help keep those economies going,” said Cheyenne and Arapaho Governor Reggie Wassana. (Photo Courtesy Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes)
According to a recent study, Oklahoma’s Native American Tribes generated an economic impact of $12.9 billion to the state’s economy through the production of goods and services, including more than 96,000 jobs in the state and $4.6 billion in wages and benefits to Oklahoma workers.
For the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, their share of that impact amounts to $261 million, including 1,924 jobs in Oklahoma and nearly $100 million in wages. The Tribes directly employ more than 1,400 individuals within their government, gaming, and investment operations in three Oklahoma counties.
In an interview with Native Business Magazine, Cheyenne and Arapaho Governor Reggie Wassana said that right now, the Tribes’ six Lucky Star casinos are the main economic engine for the Tribes.
“The Tribes started [gaming] in the mid-1990s with one large bingo hall before the casinos came online as a legal enterprise of the Tribes, and from there we grew to a total today of six,” Wassana said. “We developed what we could with what resources we had, and we didn’t have a lot of money.”
The revenues now generated from these economic enterprises go toward taking care of the Tribes’ roughly 13,000 members, through programs providing services to elders, veterans, and youth, among others.
“We’ve been able to produce a distribution from our casinos with a budget of approximately $40 million per year that we allocate for all those programs,” Wassana said. “We have also been upgrading some of our facilities that have been there since the 1990s.”
These upgrades include new carpet in their oldest facility, as well as a renovated bar area and a new restaurant. At another facility, the Tribes are replacing a facility comprised of three trailers put together with a brand-new facility featuring an 80-room hotel.
“We’ve been trying to upgrade, expand, and build some new gaming enterprises so that we can provide more services for our elders, preserve their lives, and help our youth and veterans as well,” Wassana said. “We’ve been trying to be more progressive, get a lot more done, and generate more revenue.
Outside of gaming, Wassana said that the Tribes also operate and run two travel centers, own cattle, and have approximately 450 head of buffalo. Future plans include expanding the Tribes’ economic development efforts to include a processing plant for beef and buffalo, constructing cellular towers for mobile communications, and exploring opportunities in the hemp industry.
“We have almost 13,000 acres of land, so we’re looking at trying to produce hemp and sell it to manufacturers that want to make products from hemp,” Wassana said. “I think we’re going to head in that direction because it could be as big a market for the Tribes as the casino industry.”
In some of the counties in which the Tribes operate, Wassana said that they are the largest employers, which benefits not just the Tribes, but the community at large.
“It helps anchor and provide stability in those communities,” he said. “We’re able to help some of the schools and some of the civic functions that go on. Some events may not have happened or occurred if it wasn’t for the Tribes actually helping supplement or donating to those events.”
“We’re always trying to help the local community grow or maintain their growth so they can be productive,” Wassana continued. “If some of the casinos weren’t out in those areas, some of those towns would have to consolidate their school systems with other local school systems, so it’s just of vital importance to the local communities.”
“When there is a downturn or when there isn’t any economic development going on locally, the Tribes are always there to create jobs and help keep those economies going,” he said. “So the Tribes are really important to the rural areas because people there always see the activities that are being developed by the Tribes.”