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Jewish World Review Dec. 13, 2002 / 8 Teves, 5763

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Consumer Reports

Corruption of Indian casinos no surprise | Gee, here's a real shocker.

It turns out a government program to help American-Indian tribes become more self-sufficient by allowing them to run casino gambling operations on their reservations is a failure, a fraud, a joke, a scandal. Imagine that!

In theory, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 was supposed to raise Indians up from poverty, wean them off government handouts and teach them how to run their own businesses. In fact, what we created, says Time's special report, "Wheel of Misfortune," is a craps table of chaos, unfairness, greed and abuse.

Very few Indians - there are 1.8 million of them, 85 percent still living on or near reservations - have benefited from the $12.7 billion-a-year Indian casino industry on tribal lands, says Time. Most of that gambling revenue goes to a small number of now very rich tribes and to the non-Indian big-bucks investors who bankrolled or manage their casinos.

The country's 337 Indian tribes are, as a group, still a socio-economic basket case, thanks in large part to 150 years of being owned and operated by the Great White Fathers in Washington, D.C. Half of reservation Indians today are unemployed, and a third live beneath the official poverty level.

Time's cover piece comes from the great Donald Barlett and James Steele, two of the country's best investigative journalists who regularly win awards for exposing complex and horrifying things such as corporate welfare and inequities in the tax code.

Barlett and Steele do a great job of sorting through the embarrassing mess, which includes evil tribal leaders, backroom deals, impotent regulators, sleazy lobbying of politicians and stupid federal laws that encourage long-defunct tribes to be certified so they can get in on the casino racket.

But the investigative duo, who should know better, seem a little too shocked by all the dirt they found.

Rosie O'Donnell could have predicted casinos were never going to benefit all Indians equally. And any economist could have predicted that the process would have been perverted and exploited by the political sleazemanship and mal-regulation that inevitably comes with government-devised schemes.

Time magazine's editors might have been surprised to discover this latest government-created massacre in Indian territory. But the folks who put out Forbes - America's best, most gleeful and most consistent booster of free-market capitalism, would only have yawned and said, "So what else is news?"

For 85 years, Forbes has made its living reporting and studying the bad things government does when it sticks its politicized nose into the people's business.

Its special anniversary issue is, as usual, generously crammed with smart, well-written, readable and completely biased articles that, as its editor, William Baldwin, says, "celebrate the success of capitalism in spreading prosperity by spreading innovation."

Forbes knows the obvious and never tires of repeating it: Capitalism and economic freedom improve lives. As proof, it profiles 85 innovations created by inventors and entrepreneurs of all levels of savviness and craziness - from sneakers, frozen food and wallboard to FM radio, cell phones, Pampers, three-point seatbelts and Viagra - that we either take for granted or can't live without.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald