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‘We Need Clarification Now’: Indian Gaming Industry Being Shut Out of Coronavirus Relief Program

By Acee Agoyo—April 3, 2020

With the $33.7 billion Indian gaming industry at a standstill in the midst of the worst public health crisis in decades, tribal casino operations are in danger of being left out of a major coronavirus relief program.

The Trump administration on Friday morning began accepting applications for the new Paycheck Protection Program. But conflicting guidelines issued by the Small Business Administration the day prior are preventing tribes from accessing billions of dollars in funds that would enable them to keep thousands of casino workers on their payrolls.

“We need clarification now,” Dante Desiderio (Saponny), the executive director of the Native American Finance Officers Association, told Indianz.Com.

The matter is extremely time sensitive. The Paycheck Protection Program is open to millions of small businesses across America, and the fear is that Indian Country won’t get a fair shot with the guidelines affecting tribal gaming operations in dispute.

“They need to clarify this for tribes,” Desiderio said.

Some tribes already started working with lending institutions in hopes of securing backing through the Paycheck Protection Program. But the uncertainty from Washington, D.C., has put a hold on efforts to keep their economies — which are often the major driver in their regions — up and running amid the coronavirus crisis.

“We want to keep our employees, and we want them to keep the health insurance we provide,” President Bryan Newland of the Bay Mills Indian Community told Indianz.Com. “It is going to be a real challenge if we can’t access paycheck protection loans like other businesses can.”

The impact is significant in Indian Country. Newland said a loan covered by the Paycheck Protection Program would enable the tribe to continue paying 400 gaming employees — including benefits, such as health care, that have become even more critical during the pandemic — for at least the next two months in Michigan.
“The new guidance has upended our plan, leaving us to scramble for answers with one week left in our pay period,” said Newland.

The exclusion of gaming operations from the Paycheck Protection Program is also of national importance. The American Gaming Association blamed outdated and “discriminatory” regulations in Washington that will hurt “hundreds of thousands” of people unless the Trump administration changes course.

“This decision will affect hard-working Americans from Pennsylvania to Nevada, Ohio to Colorado, and everywhere in between who need and deserve the same level of support as anyone across the country during these unprecedented times,” President and CEO Bill Miller said in a statement on Friday, calling on Jovita Carranza, the head of the Small Business Administration, to take action before it’s too late.

Read more at Indianz.com.

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