UW Today

June 13, 2017

Tribal gaming certificate addresses economic reality of Indian reservations

News and Information

Managing a casino might not be the first career path envisioned with a degree from the University of Washington.

But 22 tribes across Washington state depend on tribal casino resorts to provide jobs, generate revenue to operate tribal governments and promote economic development. So for UW students who call those reservations home – or simply want a job in Indian Country – the gaming industry looms large.

That’s the thinking behind a professional program that, for the first time, will be open to UW students this summer: a 10-credit certificate in Tribal Gaming and Hospitality Management. A joint effort of the Foster School of Business and the UW Department of American Indian Studies, the program offers classes in marketing, management and accounting, both at the Seattle campus and at partnering tribal casinos and resorts.

The program, in partnership with the Washington Indian Gaming Association, launched in 2014 as a professional development course for casino employees. Offering it to current UW students allows students to apply their financial aid toward tuition, while expanding the pool of local candidates in this industry, program leaders said.

Washington’s tribal casinos often recruit from outside the state for management-track positions, explained Lynn Palmanteer-Holder, a part-time lecturer at the UW who helped launch the certificate program with help from an advisory board of tribal leaders and gaming executives. And while the gaming industry may not be top-of-mind in some circles, it’s an economic engine of Indian reservations, and one that relies on the same rigorous business and management skills that other industries do.

Since Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, more than 450 gaming operations have opened on tribal land in more than half the 50 states. The Washington Indian Gaming Association, in its most recent 2012 report, estimated nearly 15,400 gaming industry jobs in the state, of which only 19 percent were held by Native Americans. The majority of the 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington state operate a gaming facility, whether a small casino or a full-service resort.

Other colleges and universities offer casino-management programs, often aimed at casino employees, while some target employees and undergraduates alike. The Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, for example, provides coursework for a gaming concentration that can be applied to an associate’s degree in public and tribal administration.

For students in the UW Department of American Indian Studies, the program presents another real-world career opportunity in Indian Country. Department alumni are employed in a variety of careers with tribal nations and with companies such as Microsoft, Tesla Motors and AT&T. But the Tribal Gaming and Hospitality Management Program is unique in that it prepares students to move into management positions, said department chair Christopher Teuton. The certificate is open to all students at UW—anyone interested in working in tribal gaming and hospitality management. But the need for more Native American employees in management positions is a key reason the certificate program was created.

“There is a need for tribal employees to rise through the management ranks of these casinos and hotels. For UW students, this is a way in,” Teuton said. “AIS is committed to creating programming that addresses tribal needs, and this is one of them.”

The certificate builds on business essentials while incorporating aspects specific to tribes, Palmanteer-Holder said. Marketing classes examine geography, demographics and culture; management classes focus on tribal governance, decision-making, communication and leadership styles that are pertinent to tribal organizations.

Involving the Department of American Indian Studies was a logical choice, she added; Native students, as well as those who simply have an interest in working with tribes, typically have some connection to the department, which has more Native American majors and minors than any other department at UW. The certificate makes clear another career path on Indian reservations, alongside law, health care, environment and technology.

“[Washington tribes] are not Las Vegas. We don’t look at individual casinos as a way to become rich. Our sovereign nations depend on this industry to operate our government, health, education, environmental, social and cultural programs,” said Palmanteer-Holder, whose home reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville, operates three casinos. “People don’t understand the gaming industry is creating jobs and generating revenue to operate tribal governments, an alternative to the already over-extraction of natural resources such as forests, minerals, land and waterways.”

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For more information on the program, contact Meileyani Moi at moim@uw.edu.

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