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Indian Income

Chuck Rosenow, Economic Development Director for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony in front of an older smoke shop and in the background is the newer Mercedes Benz Dealership on the same property owned by the colony.

Indian Gaming is roughly a 12 billion dollar industry nation wide. One third of all tribes are involved one way or another. Some tribes not in the gaming industry struggle with high unemployment, low literacy rates and substance abuse. But that's not the case for many tribes in Nevada who have found more traditional method of self sufficiency.

PLASKON: In states like California, Native Americans have a monopoly on Casinos. Step just a few hundred feet over the Nevada border where gaming is legal and tribes aren't gambling.

TELLER: Hi welcome to Taco Bell I'll take your order when you are ready please.

PLASKON: Can I have a number one please?

TELLER: 4.93 at the window.

PLASKON: This Taco Bell is on tribal land. So is the smoke shop next door. They haven't build casinos in Nevada because there is simply too much competition from the legalized industry. The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony started out building smoke shops and still is.

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SOUND: Drums up and under

PLASKON: Chuck Rosenow, economic development director for the tribe was at the dedication of this Tribal Smoke Shop recently.

ROSENOW: In the long-term they recognize that this is a business that is not going to grow, it is going to decline so they are trying to diversify.

PLASKON: The tribe allows 40 percent of its employees to be white. Rosenow is one of the white employees, as a former Economic Development Director in New York state, he is helping the tribe to draw businesses like any other government would. Tribes across the state are building golf courses, convenience stores, gas stations and last year, the first Mercedes Benz dealership on native land in the nation. Rosenow explains, the tribe is able to attract business because it can cut through red tape on building requirements unlike other governments.

ROSENOW: We are sort of the little guy so the little guy works a little harder and faster and is a little more hungry. When you have lots of business coming in and have lots of business coming in you kinda get slowed down a little bit.

PLASKON: Business is good at the dealership in its first year of operation, selling 40-60 cars a month. And it's spurred other dealerships to open in the area too. Contrary to popular opinion, tribal businesses don't have a competitive advantage or offer cheaper deals to customers. They are required by Nevada law to charge the same sales tax as the state. Since they have the right to tax, the tribes acquire bond ratings and get loans to purchase property. Then they put it in federal trust which give them all the rights as on a reservation. Then they lease property to tenants such as the Benz dealership. The dealership alone will earn the tribe in three quarters of a million dollars in tax revenue in its first year of operation. With this business plan, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony is a force for redevelopment, buying up a strip club and adult bookstore and waiting for the leases to expire so it can install more mainstream tenants.

SOUND: Indian prayer

PLASKON: Just outside Reno, in downtown Sparks Nevada, the tribe is blessing a new retail space it purchased in what was a nearly abandoned strip mall. Tony Armstrong is Sparks mayor.

ARMSTRONG: They helped revitalize this, they are good partners here in this town and I am very, very happy to see them here because they are such great partners.

PLASKON: Tribal members are proud too. Toby Stump, a 23-year-old plumbing apprentice and tribal member used to think that the tribe should just distribute its profits among members like other tribes.

STUMP: There are a lot more places that just give out their money, they just give it out, but here they are holding, re-investing, re-investing for maybe the future long run.

PLASKON: This tribal government is starting to see the long-term benefits. This year it plans to build a hospital to provide services to it's citizens that the federal government hasn't. Free health care.

Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR

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Tuesday, July 27, 2004