The biggest casino in the United States — in fact, the biggest casino in the world — is the WinStar World Casino in Oklahoma, a tribal casino owned and operated by the Chickasaw Nation.
America’s second largest casino is the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Massachusetts. It’s also tribally owned, in this case by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.
By the way, neither of those rankings should be a surprise, given that Indian gaming is the largest segment of the U.S. casino industry. The 501 tribal casinos in 28 states generate a total annual revenue of more than $33 billion. That’s five times the gaming revenue of the entire Las Vegas Strip, making gaming the main economic driver for the majority of tribal communities in the United States.
But when tribal officials, state regulators and national media have questions about Indian gaming policy and law, they don’t always call Thackerville, Okla., or Mashantucket, Conn., first.
Instead, they dial up a place without a tribal casino at all: Grand Forks. That’s when the phones ring in the UND offices of Kathryn R.L. Rand and Steven Andrew Light, academics who are national authorities on Indian gaming, literally having written the book (actually, books — they’ve published three, two in second editions) on the subject.
Plus spoken on tribal gaming internationally, plus testified before Congress about it.
“Twenty-five years ago, we presented on tribal gaming at our first conference,” Rand said. “We certainly didn’t foresee publishing books, advising tribal, state and federal officials, and flying the UND flag at conferences in places such as Macau.
“It has been a challenging, exciting and intellectually rewarding field.”
‘Indian Gaming Law’
Earlier this year, the second edition of Rand and Light’s book, “Indian Gaming Law,” went on sale.
The casebook, designed for use in law, undergraduate and graduate courses, is the only up-to-date book that focuses on tribal gaming law, and that’s a big part of its continuing popularity. (Even the law school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas — the only law school in America to focus on gaming law — has used the book to teach tribal gaming law.)
Also important is the fact of Indian gaming’s rapid growth. Because of that historically recent leap in scale, “thousands of attorneys — as well as regulators or industry officials with adept legal knowledge or experience … must develop expertise in this dynamic, challenging and sometimes rapidly evolving area of law,” as the book notes.
But most important is the expertise that Rand and Light bring to the subject. That’s the product, as Rand noted, of a unique 25-year partnership.
In 1995, “Steve was a graduate student at Northwestern, and I was in law school and a federal judicial law clerk in Milwaukee,” Rand said.
“The judge had a case on tribal gaming. Steve was studying politics and policy, and we co-authored a paper for a conference.”
Light smiled at the memory. “Remember, 25 years ago, tribal gaming was still new,” he said.
“The modern era starts in the 1980s. That meant very few were looking at Indian gaming, and even fewer were looking at it in law or political science.
“But we realized that tribally owned and operated casinos were making a difference in reservation communities. We thought we could help figure out how the law influences it, and what political and policy factors drive success and non-success.
“It was a super-cool area, with so many political and legal dimensions coming together,” he recalled.
Today, Rand is Floyd B. Sperry Professor at the UND School of Law, an institution where — from 2009 to 2018 — she served as Dean. Light is Professor of Political Science & Public Administration at UND, where over the course of his career, he also has held the titles of Associate Vice President, Associate Provost, and — in two different Colleges — Interim Dean.
In addition, Rand and Light co-direct UND’s Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming Law & Policy, the first institute in America dedicated to studying that topic. Under the Institute’s umbrella, they have published three books, researched cutting-edge topics such as sports betting, online gaming and eSports, and taught several iterations of courses related to Indian gaming law and policy.
And recently, they’ve been tapped to comment on the impacts of COVID-19 on the tribal gaming industry.
Tribal gaming and compromise
The researchers routinely get invited to speak at universities and industry events. One notable example came in 2018, when the University of Macau — in a city that has become the single largest gambling jurisdiction in the world – invited a dozen experts from around the globe to talk about reforms to Macau’s gaming law and policy.
Rand and Light were the sole U.S. speakers sponsored to appear at the conference.
One key to Rand and Light’s success is the word “compromise ” — not only between the two as collaborators, but also as a central theme they’ve identified in Indian gaming policy and law.
Tribal casinos operate at the nexus of three circles: the place where federal, state and tribal law meet, Rand said. That makes for especially complicated politics and law – and as a result, especially sophisticated, and sometimes surprising, compromises.
In North Dakota, for example, the state Constitution banned the Legislature from authorizing “any game of chance, lottery, or gift enterprises, under any pretense, or for any purpose whatever” until 2002. But that didn’t stop lawmakers in the 1990s from approving strong tribal-state gaming compacts with each of the state’s Indian tribes.
Clearly, all parties recognized that successful tribal casinos could benefit not only tribal members, but also the state.
And in that recognition, North Dakota’s not alone. As Rand and Light write in their book’s new second edition, “our sense (is) that Indian gaming law and policy have evolved through political compromise as much as through litigation and law reform.
“Attention only to ‘black letter’ law would be misleading as to the type and relative influence of extralegal variables. … Similarly, discussion of the politics surrounding Indian gaming without grounding in the law would untether tribal gaming from its key legal context.”
Also clearly, Rand and Light found the perfect field, one in which a lawyer and a political scientist can successfully collaborate and jointly research.
Through it all, Rand and Light remain grateful for the strong support of UND. The University’s commitment to not only their work, but also Indian-related programs in law, medicine, nursing, and elsewhere, is exceptional, they said.
“Wherever we are, we always emphasize the good things that are happening at UND,” Light said.
“UND is a global leader in Indigenous studies, and we are proud to be a part of it.”