Strategy & Marketing

“Self Reliance” – Native American Media Brilliance

Let’s talk a bit about the “Self-Reliance” campaign by Indian casinos across the country. If you’re from a state that doesn’t have them, then you won’t understand. But here in California, we’re inundated with TV commercials that don’t promote casinos or gambling – they promote Native American “self-reliance.” I’m all for self-reliance, and I’m all for Native Americans. But as a media strategist, I have to hand it to the creative person who came up with the idea of cloaking gambling in a positive moral attribute. You’re not losing money, your helping an entire race become self-reliant. From a marketing perspective, that’s genius. Moral hooey perhaps, but genius.

The statistics are pretty compelling that gambling isn’t the rosy picture the media and business says it is. In fact, numerous sources testify that it’s an addiction and it’s pretty devastating. Obviously, the casinos don’t agree, which is why they hide behind the “self-reliance” campaign. Besides, if gambling was such a good thing, why would they need self-reliance? Why wouldn’t they just spend millions talking about how great it is to lose your money?

It’s called “perception.” And hiding behind a shot of a poor Native American kid is the best way they can think of to keep the slot machines working…

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  1. Sounds like a bit of an oxymoron doesn't it?

    I have not seen that advertising, as I live almost as far away from CA as you can get and still be in the US! 

    When I first read your headline I was expecting to hear about a request for more land, so that they could live off the land, and not rely on outside influence!  But in reality it is the OPPOSITE?  Come visit our land, so that we can live off of your money and in doing so achieve "Self – Reliance".

    Now, I can understand how our (anyone that is not a Native American) ancestors did encroach on their land, and were not considerate in the least, and were more accurately hostile to the natives.  I also can see that Native Americans were wronged like so many nations have been wronged throughout history.  So please don't read my comments as racist or an attack.  But I have to agree that is a very interesting manner of campaigning!!!

    What's next?  A TV show requesting donations and in return they will do a rain-dance for your drought – stricken part of the country?  <wink>

  2. It was interesting to see, down the street, in the Biblebelt of Tulsa, what was a Native American industrial building, used for Bingo, has turned into a multi-million dollar casino that has a packed parking lot everyday and is about to build a new mall size complex.  I know several local businesses that believe their income has suffered because of it and the other large casino in the area.  There slogan is "we know what you want".

  3. Self-reliant? while relying on our finances? Interesting thought…

    As soon as they stop taking the huge federal grants (all while not paying a penny of federal & state tax), then I'll start considering them somewhat self-reliant.
    I'm not sure that I'm aware of any culture that has not fallen into dispare while being given everything for nothing (ie. free handouts). Look at the rampant alcoholism and unenployment in the Native American communities.
    I did not grow up around Native Americans, but my college was right around the corner from the capitol of the Cherokee Nation. I studied them my first year of college. By no means to I consider myself overly knowledgable about Native Americans, but I have quite a bit of knowledge when it comes to community/culture development.
  4. California voters approved Indian gaming in two separate referenda and it is generally understood and accepted that the vote was, to some degree, a way to make up for all of the terrible things we non-natives did to Native Americans. Voters basically said: "Sure, we agree that you can have gaming on tribal lands as a way to perhaps finally have some source of economic self-sufficiency." So the concept of self-reliance is not some new spin. In fact, gaming is the sole source of self-sufficiency for many gaming tribes. By law, revenues from Tribal Governmentalgaming must be used in five specific areas.
    The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (25 U.S.C. 2710 [Sec. 11]), stipulates that revenues from any tribal gaming are not to be used for purposes other than-

    • To fund Tribal Government operations or programs;
    • To provide for the general welfare of the Indian tribe and its members;
    • To promote Tribal economic development;
    • To donate to charitable organizations; or
    • To help fund operations of local government agencies.

    Gaming revenues provide tribal members with housing, health care, education, police and fire protection, elder care, roads, sewer & water, etc. And in California, gaming tribes pay into a fund that provides money to non-gaming tribes. They also contribute significantly to charitable and civic organizations in their local communities. This is in addition to creating thousands of local jobs, providing good wages and salaries to empolyees from surrounding communities and working with thousands of vendors, mostly local.

    By the way, ALL Indian people pay federal income, FICA and social security taxes. Only the small percentage of Indians who live and work on their own federally recognized reservations – not unlike soldiers and their families living on military installations – are exempt from paying state income and property taxes. However, they still pay taxes such as sales and all other special and excise taxes. And members of gaming tribes who receive per capita payments must pay federal income taxes on those payments.


  5. Still doesn't make much sense to me.  So look what happened to African-Americans in this country, but we don't allow them to become "self-reliant" through the heroin business.  What kind of "self-reliance" comes from getting paid for gambling?  Does that build anything?  if tomorrow, gambling were to go away, chances are, the old situation with Native Americans would be right back to where it was years ago.  Surely, they have more pride than that.  Besides, I wonder who's really making the money here?

  6. To be specific, yes, you are right, the Indians who live and work on the reservation do not pay taxes. None of the indians working in the casino pay it (the casinos are on reservations) and more importantly, not a dime from the casino goes to the federal, state, or local governments.

    At least that's my understanding.
    PS. I get the feeling that you are insinuating that all of these great community development projects are all that matters. 'The ends justify the means' ????
    Final thought, promise. Being that the majority of people losing tons of money in the casinos are receiving the majority of federal and local financial assistance in the form of food stamps, medicare, medicade & welfare, this would mean that the tribes are receiving even more federal, state and local funding than we are giving them credit for. Hardley self-sufficient. Sad.
    I'm now climbing off my soapbox.
  7. Again, any income that a member of a gaming tribe earns from tribal gaming revenue (known as Per Capita payments) IS taxed as federal income. That's just a fact. TM says "not a dime from the casino goes to the federal, state or local government." Not correct. While the casinos are located on reservation lands and therefore are not directly taxed, they more than make up for that in the compact fees they pay to the state — multiple billions in the case of California. If you really wanted to tax them like any other business, their share of federal and state taxes would be less than what they pay now. Kathy suggests that Tribes that become self reliant from a legal activity — an activity that state governments even run (lotteries) — are like heroin dealers. Is the governor of your state (assuming they run a lottery) like a drug kingpin? Are the schools that accept state lottery revenues heroin users? Or does that parallel only apply to Indians who become self-reliant from this particular legal enterprise. Listen…if you are on a moral high horse and just don't like gambling, fine. Don't gamble. But it's a legitimate, highly regulated industry that many, many thousands (millions?) of people enjoy and take part in with no adverse impact.

  8. Phil, I think it is dishonest to claim that self-reliance is not directly related to gaming for tribes. Before gaming, tribes had no economic engine at all. Nothing. They had been pushed into the rocks and really had no viable means to be self-sufficent on their own lands. They had to get construction or other jobs off the reservation. With gaming, tribes finally had a way to generate revenue on their lands that could support their tribal members. Remember — by law — those gaming revenues can ONLY be used for roads, sewer, housing, etc. Things that allow those tribes to be self-reliant. How can you, in all honesty, disconnect the two? They were never self-reliant until gaming came along. Before gaming, Indian-haters bashed them for being poor and dependent on welfarfe. Since tribal government gaming, many tribes went from being the biggest recipients of charitable giving, to the biggest providers of charitalbe giving. Tribal government gaming has finally allowed many of these tribes to become self-reliant. But now instead of bashing them for being poor, people attack them for the very success and self-reliance that gaming has provided. They hated Indians because they were poor, then they hated them because of their success. I think if you're really honest with yourself, Phil, you'd examine your true feelings about Native Americans. Sounds cynical and un-Christian to me.

  9. No problem with Native Americans here.  But I do have a problem with gambling.  Yes, it's the law, but there are plenty of legal things that are morally questionable.  And my comments come from a media perspective only.  I'm not an expert on Indian casinos, but I do get a kick out of how the marketing people cloak an industry like gambling in "self-reliance."  (Talk about cynical… 🙂

  10. Bob — It would be nice if this blog was just about media and branding, but Phil's comments have a much broader implication…which is the part that I was addressing. And if you look at Kathy's and TM's and some other comments, you can see that. They didn't respond to the nawwrowly-defined media and branding aspect of his comments. They picked up on his anti-Indian bias (just below the surface).  

    But, OK, let's just assume Phil is just looking at this from a media and branding stand point. The point he tries to make fails on its most basic level. He talks about the TV commericals that "don’t promote casinos or gambling – they promote Native American 'self-reliance.'”  Phil misses the mark entirely. I live in California and I know a thing or two about Indians and gaming. The TV commercials that I think Phil refers to were never intended to promote the casinos or gambling. They don't even try to do that. There are lots of other of commericals and print ads that do that. The straight-forward commercials, of which there are plenty, do in fact sell the casinos as fun and a chance to win. Again, there are lots of those.

    But the other commericals, the ones that I think Phil refers to, are intended to explain to the public that gaming has been good for Native Americans and the general public (with all the charitable contributions, jobs, etc.). If you don't live in California, or didn't live in California when Indian gaming was "legalized," you won't understand. Voters approved Indian gaming in two separate ballot measures (by large margins) and it was widely seen at the time as a way to finally give something back to Indians to make up for past injustices and provide them with a chance to have some sort of economic opportunity.  So the ads that Phil talks about are not even designed to sell casinos. They are intended to remind the public why they approved of Indian gaming…and how gaming has, indeed, finally created an engine for self-reliance.

    I guess what I am saying is that Phil thinks the connection between gaming and Native American self-reliance is contrived by some marketing people who have made this up in a bunch of new TV ads. But, in fact, voters made that connection (gaming and the opportunity for self-reliance) when they "approved" Indian gaming in the late 1990's and 2000 at the ballot box. The commericals Phil refers to are (smartly) trying to remind voters of that.

    That's all.

  11. "So the ads that Phil talks about are not even designed to sell casinos. They are intended to remind the public why they approved of Indian gaming…and how gaming has, indeed, finally created an engine for self-reliance."

    — And you actually don't believe there is a connection?  Wow.  Didn't you say you had been a journalist?  You might need an introduction to branding.  I appreciate your take on it, and for sticking with us, but that's remarkably naive….  You actually completely prove my point.  The public (like you) has no idea what they're being sold in these ads….      

  12. "Rain-dance" huh? well you dont get anymore racist than that. Its kinda funny because I love hearing ignorant peoples version of what a "rain-dance" is. You probably wont ever in your life tell that to a real rez native in person will you…..hmmm thats what I thought too.

  13. Well I sincerely apologize that what I said was offensive to you and anyone else that might find it that way. It was intended to be a satirical shot at the mega-ministries that are asking for donations and in return they are sending you a trinket that they have prayed over, annointed with holy water, or whatever. I am obviously ignorant to how you feel about it since even now, with it pointed out to me, I don’t find the offense if the satire is read correctly. Would it not be a similar action… In other words, I find it questionable if not completely offensive that a tv evangelist would “sell” a prayer, a blessed handkerchief or “holy water” for a donation of a certain size. I was drawing a parallel to that, which would mean that I was assuming that a Native American would also find a similar practice to be objectionable. The satire also applies to the progression that tv evangelists did not just start out with the stark obvious but that they worked their way to that by at first requesting support for their ministry. Even if this post does not help explain that my intentions were not racist, I hope that you would accept the apology.

  14. You can call me and "the publc" naive but that just exposes your skepticism and arrogance. I don't deny the connection between the casinos and the ads. I'm just trying to point out to those who may think they know branding but don't know Indians or gaming…that there is a very, very real connection between gaming and self-reliance. Too many people like you either deny that connection ever existed or forget it. The tribes are simply smart enough to make ads reminding the public about that…so the connection is not lost. Now…if you don't believe the connection between Indian gaming and self-reliance, then I can see why you say "bullsh!&" when you see the ads. You just think those damned Indians want to sell their casinos to get rich. But if you were around in California and remember that voters approved Indian gaming in 2000 as a means of self-reliance for the Indians…you might understand the message — that to many Indians, Indian gaming is about more than just casinos…it's about self-reliance. It has allowed them to do so much more. San Manuel is a tribe that has leveraged the success of their casinos to go into many diverse busineses and ensure self-sufficiency for generations to come. You should read this article to understand the concept….

  15. Roger, doger, you are making my head hurt!

    Self-reliance is what happens when you get an education, get an idea, bring it to the marketplace, and make an income giving people something they need.

    Self-reliance is not what happens when the government gives you  a free pass to give the public something formerly illegal — and have the government keep anyone else from offering that same thing.

    The casino laws have them an entitlement.  Like welfare.

    Phil's point is spot on.  The ad agency they hired (no doubt some Madison Ave types)  spun this self reliance thing to play to the liberals.  Beautiful, works like a charm.  Great branding.  It's horse poop, but hey, that's advertising!

    But any one who really thinks that casinos help anyone be self-reliant has oatmeal where their brains belong.  They simply switched from one government handout to another.


  16. Island Girl,

    It appears you don't like gambling. That's fine.  You say that it was once illegal.  Guess what, it is legal and flourishing…so deal with it.  Then you basically say it is a monopoly, suggesting that makes it an entitlement. First off, that's not the model in all states. But here in California, voters set the system up this way. Democracy at work, Island Girl. Indians took their case to the voters, who overwhelmingly voted to make a deal with the tribes — we'll give you exclusive rights to gaming in exchange for billions of dollars per year. Then the tribes worked out their agreements with the Governor, democratically-elected lawmakers and federal officials. Played strictly by the rules, Island Girl. That was a political and business deal that was created by a fair, legal and democratic system. I just think you don't like it when Indians play by the rules and win.

    I bet you liked it better when they were poor and shoved into the rocks.

    But for the rest of you who might not have an axe to grind with Indians, a little history from California:

    In November of 1998, California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 5 which allowed California Indian tribes to continue gaming on their own land. This ended a six-year struggle by California tribes to operate gaming permited under a 1988 federal law. But due to a legal technicality, Nevada casino interests were able to get the measure overturned on constitutional grounds.
    However, on March 7, 2000, voters returned to the ballot boxes and showed their unwavering support for Native Americans. On that date, Propositon 1A, an amendment to the California State Constitution in support of tribal governmental gaming, passed with a 65% state-wide approval rate.

    State governments use their taxes to provide for the general welfare of its citizens. Likewise, tribal governments use their revenues from gaming for the same purpose. Tribal gaming profits provide funding for education, housing and health care for Indian people. On reservations where there is gaming, unemployment has all but disappeared. Tribal gaming has taken Indians off welfare and put them on the road to self-determination. Tribes also realize that the success of gaming is not an end in itself. Rather, it is a bridge to help regain what was once theirs long ago – true self-respect, self-determination and economic self-sufficiency. Many tribes are looking beyond gaming and diversifying their economic base with other businesses. The skills and resources tribes are amassing in gaming will help assure their future and their children’s future. The following are some facts about self-reliance and Indian gaming that you may find interesting. At little dated, but still makes the point:

    In San Diego, Indian Gaming:

    • is the second largest employer in San Diego.
    • created over 7,500 new jobs (for Indians and non-Indians).
    • generates over $80 million in annual payroll (and more than $15 million in state and federal payroll taxes).
    • purchases more than $90 million in goods and services from local businesses.
    • gives over $5 million to community/charitable organizations each year.

    In California, Indian Gaming:

    • created more than 50,000 new jobs (80% of which are non-Indian).
    • generates more than $120 million in state and local taxes.
    • generates more than $280 million is in taxable expenditures by gaming patrons at neighboring, non-gaming businesses each year.
    • pays to the State of California a fee averaging 10% of gross revenues.
    • supports an estimated 35,000 additional jobs in California through subsequent rounds of spending by employees, vendors, construction firms, tribal governments and other affected businesses.
    • unemployment rate has dropped more than 50% on reservations with gaming.
    • welfare has been cut by more than 70% on reservations with gaming…and in some instances, welfare has been eliminated completely.
    • Association for Forest Development and Conservation payments have been reduced by more than $50 million.

    Maintaining The Highest Standards Of Quality And Integrity…

    • Unprecedented levels of regulation
    • Tribal regulators and commi
    • State Gaming Department
    • State Gaming Department
    • Additional federal regulation:
    • Department Of Justice
    • Federal Bureau Of Investigation
    • Internal Revenue Service
    • Bureau Of Indian Affairs
    • Department Of The Interior
  17. Passing of Proposition 1A means there will now be more regulation on the part of the state…All additional regulatory costs will be paid for by the tribes.
  18. Non-Indian commercial gaming (which makes up 90% of the gaming in the United States) is regulated on only one level.
  19. Proposition 1A limits the number of casinos a tribe may operate (two) as well as the number of slot machines that are permitted in a casino (no more than 2,000).
  20. The compacts signed with the Governor of California in conjuction with Proposition 1A will be good for 20 years. Changes may be made after three years, but must be agreed to by both state and tribal governments and must also be approved by the federal government.

  21. I have to admit, we'd better leave this here with Roger, who we all agree just doesn't seem to get it.  First – he continues to close off healthy discussion by pulling the race card on everyone who doesn't agree with him.  For the upteeth time Roger, it's not about race, it's about media.  It's about using the media to put a false front on an issue.  In this case it's advertising that uses "self-reliance" to promote gambling.  Illegal or legal doesn't matter.  Voters approved it – doesn't matter.  Its about the media.  That's what this blog is about.  So the discussion could be about a million different issues, but this one is about media.  Thanks for your input Roger, but I say let's agree to disagree and call it a day.

  22. Assuming all this is true, legality is not the same as morality.

    The original post simply noted an opinion, which is held by many Christians as to the morality of gambling while still noting that the promotional campaign being used to equate the profits from the casinos as equating to being self-sufficient.

    The reference in that regard was positive.  Well done ad campaign.

    Believe it or not, it's possible to be opposed to gambling on moral grounds without being anti-Indian.

    You might try backing off a bit and looking at it more objectively and less emotionally.

    Just my opinion though.

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