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Indian Casinos Gross $25 Billion in 2006

By ERICA WERNER
The Associated Press
Monday, June 4, 2007; 6:57 PM

WASHINGTON -- Indian gambling pulled in $25 billion in 2006, 11 percent more than the year before as the industry's explosive growth outpaced Las Vegas.

Federal figures announced Monday, compiled from 387 tribal facilities in 28 states, show Indian gambling revenue has nearly doubled in five years.

Indian casinos brought in $12.8 billion from gambling in 2001, $22.5 billion in 2005 and $25.1 billion in 2006, according to the National Indian Gaming Commission.

"The continued growth is eye-opening considering the tribal gaming industry is still relatively young," said commission Chairman Phil Hogen.

In 1988 Congress passed a law creating the legal framework for Indian gambling. The law let Indian tribes, with the consent of a state's governor, run slot machines and other profitable games on their reservations not allowed elsewhere in the state.

There are now 415 Indian gambling facilities nationwide operated by more than 200 tribes. They range from full-blown casinos with slot machines and other Las Vegas-style games to smaller gambling centers offering video poker, bingo or other games short of slots.

The figures released Monday didn't include audit numbers from a couple dozen smaller operations that hadn't yet reported, but Gaming Commission officials said the overall number wasn't expected to change much.

Indian gambling revenue in 2006 was far richer than the $12.62 billion gambling take in Nevada in 2006. But Nevada casinos make a lot of money with restaurants, hotels and other entertainment, so their total 2006 revenue was $24.08 billion. Gambling revenue in Nevada increased 8 percent from 2005 to 2006.

Indian casinos aren't required to report their profits, and most don't disclose that information, so it's not possible to know the tribes' net income. Nevada's major hotel-casinos posted their highest net income ever in fiscal 2006 _ a combined $2.1 billion.

The new figures come as the National Indian Gaming Commission struggles with how to regulate tribal gambling in the wake of an appeals court decision last fall that said the federal government does not have authority to make rules about the play of Nevada-style games at tribal casinos.

Commission officials hope Congress will act to strengthen their hand, but the Democrats who now control Congress have shown little interest in doing so, and tribes say they can regulate themselves. Hogen said his commission's authority must be reasserted for the industry to continue its growth.

"The public's continued good will is a necessary element to continued growth, which is why the role of the NIGC must be reaffirmed," he said.

© 2007 The Associated Press