The nation’s second-largest trade show, Indian Gaming ’09, the annual gathering of the National Indian Gaming Association, was held last month in Phoenix. While attendance seemed to be down a bit from last year’s show in San Diego, there was no shortage of drama.
The highlight of the conference was the annual meeting of NIGA. Ernest Stevens, Jr. was re-elected as chairman for another term after he faced no opposition for the third consecutive election.
“Either no one wants the headaches of taking over for a legend, or Stevens is doing what most NIGA members consider to be a good job,” said one board member.
Arizona is always a fine host for the show. In one of the most progressive states when it comes to tribal gaming, the Arizona Gaming Association makes sure that visitors get a great reception. The opening night reception-“Jam on the Rez”-was held at the Gila River tribe’s Wild Horse Casino, and a reception hosted by the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers on the second night attracted thousands of show attendees. The Wendell Chino Award dinner on the final night featured an appearance by the Beach Boys.
Like most conferences these days, the NIGA sessions focused on the recession, which has hit Indian Country as hard as other casinos. Stevens believes the worst is over, but is cautious.
“We see a brighter future ahead, and we’re excited about that future,” he said. “But that’s not going to happen until we take care of things ourselves.”
Stevens said tribes have plenty of practice in surviving tough times.
“This is what we’ve lived through for generations, and the reason we’ve survived this is because we stand together,” he said. “We’re united, we hold hands, and we fight this fight together.”