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Human Oreanization. Vol. 56. No. 3.

copyrightk 1997 by the society for Applied Anthropology


The Navajo Gaming Referendum:

Reservations about Casinos Lead to Popular
Rejection of Legalized Gambling
Numerous American Indian tribal governments have introduced legalized gambling to enhance revenues. There have been notable
financial successes as well as some confrontationswith state governments and the exacerbation of factionalism on some reservations.
The largest tribal entity in the United States, the Navajo, has not established a gaming industry. In 1994 the Navajo Tribal Council,
following a veto of enabling legislation, referred the issue to the voters. Navajo voters rejected the referendum in the November, 1994
tribal general election. This article examines the Navajo electorate's rejection of gaming. Results varied by voting district (chapter).
Exit polling conducted in a half-dozenchapters is used to analyze the effects of sex and age on the outcome and to describe the voters'
reasons foitheir vote.
Key words: Navajo Nation, gaming, elections; US

asino-style gaming has been adopted in the past decade by

numerous American Indian tribes primarily as a means to
raise revenue. The economic benefits have been touted by many
tribes. Nevertheless, there have been considerable concerns in
some quarters over the social consequences of the introduction
of such gaming. This article examines the controversy
surrounding the proposed introduction of casino-style gaming
on the largest reservation in the United States, the Navajo
Nation. In November, 1994, Navajo voters defeated a proposal
for casino-style gaming. The rejection of gaming was based
primarily on Navajo voters' moral concerns. It is likely that
these concerns outweighed the perceived potential for revenue
because, unlike other tribal casinos which generally attract
predominately non-Indian patrons, the proposed casinos in the
Navajo Nation would be patronized by large numbers of

Eric Henderson teaches in the Department of Sociology,

Anthropology and Criminology at the University of Northern Iowa.
Scott Russell is an adjunct professor in the Department of
Anthropology, Arizona State University. This research was
conducted, in part, under Navajo Nation Cultural Resources
Investigation Permit No. C9421-E. We are indebted to the Navajo
Nation Cultural Resources Department for the research permit
and to the Navajo Nation's Board of Election Supervisors for their
cooperation. We also appreciate the patience of the many voters
in the chapters ofAneth, Ganado, Lechee, Shiprock, St. Michaels
and Tuba City.We were ably assisted by Loreen Begay and Reed
Tso. Dr. Stephen Kunitz and Dr. Thomas Hill provided careful
criticisms of an earlier draft of this paper. We appreciate their



The Political and Policy Background

In order to understand the context in which Indian gaming
has emerged as a major issue in the past decade, we offer an
abbreviated account of recent trends in Indian policy. In the
1950s and early 1960s, Indian policy focused on the termination
of tribes and restrictions on tribal sovereignty. Much intellectual
and political effort was spent on defending tribal rights of selfgovernance. When federal policy shifted to emphasize tribal
'self-determination," tribes increasingly sought ways to find
revenues to make self-governance meaningful. Larger, resource
rich tribes sought ways to exploit reservation resources. In many
places there were controversies between tribal and state
governments over issues of taxation and regulation of Indian
controlled resources.
There remained, however, a large number of tribes without
exploitable natural resources. Many of these tribes, located near
large non-Indian population centers (particularly in California
and the Pacific Northwest), sought to generate revenue through
the sale of tobacco products. The competitive advantage over
non-Indian sellers came from the claim that on-reservation sales
of cigarettes were exempt from state taxation. The United States
Supreme Court soon sharply curtailed the potential of this source
of revenue when it ruled that Indians had no right to the
"artificial" advantage of jurisdictional tax differentials. The
court decided state taxes could be collected from non-Indian
purchasers of cigarettes on a reservation because the burden on
the reservation merchant in collecting the tax was "minimal"
(Washington v. Confederated Colville Tribes, 447 US 134
(1980); Moe v. Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, 425
U S 463 (1976); Cohen 1982:413-16).

Unable to reap the full benefits of jurisdictional differences

in taxing structures,the sale of cigarettes as a revenue source was
thwarted. Tribal governments, however, continued to seek ways
of making their retained sovereignty and protection from state
regulation economically meaningful. Several tribes began to
promote gambling as a revenue source. The basic premise is
that if tribes are free from state jurisdiction and if Congress has
not exercised its plenary power over Indian affairs to limit gaming,
tribes retain (as a sovereign) the right to establish gaming
operations. Again, for most small tribal entities, gaming
operations only make sense if the gaming attracts a significant
number of non-Indians willing to risk money on games of chance.
The Cahuilla tribe put the premise to the test by developing
a bingo operation on their reservation near Palm Springs,
California. The state of California sought to assert jurisdiction
over this gaming operation. In California v. Cabazon Band of
Mission Indians, 480 US 202 (1987) the U.S. Supreme Court
vindicated the sovereignty of the Cahuilla when it "held that a
state could not enforce its 'civil/regulatory' gaming laws in a
manner that would prohibit gaming on Indian lands within its
borders." Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, 11 F.3d 1016,
(11th Cir. 1994) affirmed 116 S. Ct. 1114 (1996).
Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act ( IGRA)'
the following year. The Act explicitly states that gaming is "a
means of promoting tribal economic development, selfsufficiency, and strong tribal governments" (U.S. Code 25
Section 2702(1)). Nevertheless, state interests in Indian gaming
were given considerable deference.
The federal statutory scheme divides gaming into three
"classes." Class I gaming is solely regulated by tribal
governments and includes "social games" with prizes of
"minimal value" and "traditional forms" of gaming associated
with tribal celebrations (25 USC 2703(6)). Class I1 gaming
includes bingo and non-banking card games (25 USC 2703(7)).
Class 111gaming is defined residually and consists of "all forms
of gaming that are not class I gaming or class I1 gaming" (U.S.
Code 25 Section 2703(8); Seminole Tribe 1994:1017). Class
I11 gaming is allowed when conducted in conformance with a
compact between the Tribe and the State (Seminole Tribe
The "compact" provision of the federal law gives the states
considerable influence over gaming on Indian lands and has
been used by many states in attempts to delay or defeat the
efforts of a number of tribes to establish class I11 gaming
operations. The compact process erodes tribal sovereignty and
provides ample room for states to challenge the types of games
that tribes may operate (Rumsey Indian Rancheria of Wintun
Indians v. Wilson, 64 F.3d 1250 (9th Cir. 1994)).
In sum, many tribes are currently involved in controversies
that are similar to the controversies surrounding the "cigarette
cases" of the 1970s. For these tribes the Congressional purpose
of promoting economic development and self-sufficiency is
largely unfulfilled. On the other hand, some tribes have
successfully negotiated compacts and have implemented
gaming operations. Scores of tribes now rely on gaming for a
portion of tribal revenues and some enterprises are extremely
lucrative. The most profitable casino in the United States
(Foxwoods) is run by the Pequot Tribe in Connecticut
(Goodman 1995:104).
Despite the financial potential, some Indian tribes have not
established gaming operations under the IGRA. Certainly, this

is not based on ignorance. It is not, presumably, based on a

notion that gaming will fail to produce tribal revenues. Why
then have some tribes not "taken advantage" of this potential
source of revenue?
This question has no single answer. American Indian tribes
comprise a vast array of distinct cultural traditions and distinct
histories of relations with the federal government and the states.
Any attempt at generalization about the policies of Indian
tribes must be sensitive to these differences and hedged with
This article focuses on but a single tribe, the Navajo. The
Navajo occupy.the largest reservation in the United States (over
16,000,000acres) and have the largest on-reservation population
(over 160,000). The article's purpose is to describe this tribe's
wrestling with the gaming issue.
T h e N a v a j o Gaming Controversy
As among most American Indian tribes, there is a long
tradition of gambling among the Navajo. There are "minor rites"
and songs for luck in gaming (Kluckhohn and Leighton
1974:222). The winter shoe game remains quite popular in some
areas. Horse races and foot races are occasions for betting. Card
games are nearly ubiquitous adjuncts of some ceremonial
occasions such as the summer Enemyway rituals. Historically,
some people had widespread reputations as gamblers and were
known by names indicating involvement in gambling.
Over a half century ago, Kluckhohn and Leighton (1974:306)
noted that "[tlo Navahos such things as sex and gambling are
not 'wrong' at all but will bring trouble if indulged in 'too
much.'" They added that "[u]ncontrolled gambling or drinking
are disapproved primarily because they are wasteful"
(Kluckhohn and Leighton 1974:299). These values have
persisted to the present.
Some Navajo tribal officials have spoken about the potential
over a
of gaming on the reservation for a number of years.
decade rumors have floated concerning a casino at Lake Powell,
a major recreation area and tourist destination. However, at the
time the IGRA passed, the Navajo Nation Tribal Code (NTC)
explicitly made it a criminal offense to promote gambling and
to gamble for "economic benefit other than personal winnings"
(17 NTC section 421). Tribal gaming operations required the
Navajo Nation to alter its law.
In 1993 the Economic Development Committee (EDC) of
the Navajo Nation Council established a six member
"Subcommittee on Class I1 and Class I11 gaming" primarily to
"review and make recommendations with respect to tasks which
the Navajo Nation must undertake to fully develop a gaming
establishment and/or casino" (EDC 1993:1). The subcommittee
held public hearings in five reservation locations. About 250
people attended the hearings and about 65 people provided
testimony (EDC 1993:12).
The subcommittee concluded that

r or

Gaming is clearly a profitable industry. The benefits are

many: more job opportunities,more government revenue
to provide for the Navajo People, more revenue for true
investment in the economy and education, competition
with casinos and gaming establishmentsnear or adjacent
to the Navajo Nation to curb the flow of money leaving
the Navajo Reservation...(EDC 1993:21).
VOL. 56. NO. 3 FALL 1997


The report warned that if "entry" into the gaming industry were
delayed "profits in the industry will have fallen" and the tribal
government would lose opportunities for revenue and
employment (EDC 1993:20). Tribal policy makers thus framed
the issue as one of revenue. Public testimony raising noneconomic issues was largely ignored. The report characterized
the opposition (which the subcommittee determined to be 29%
of those testifying) in the following passage:
The expressed concern on behalf of the Navajo People
testifying at the public hearings was that revenue
generated from gaming be set-asidefor further economic
development and infrastructural development and
educational investment. The Subcommittee agrees with
such opinion and makes the same recommendation (EDC
While such concerns are evident in a few statements recorded
in the report, there were several other concerns regarding
additional issues of economic, political and social or moral
importance. At the Northern Agency hearing, one individual
noted that gaming "might not work for a large tribe which does
not have a nearby urban center as a market" (EDC 1993:15).
Two individuals were concerned about loss of sovereignty (EDC
1993: 15-17). At Ft. Defiance "Ray Brown stated that gambling
is prohibited in the Navajo way of life" (EDC 1993: 17). This
was a unique expression but several individuals testified, more
consistent with the observation of Kluckhohn and Leighton,
that while gaming, per se, was not objectionable some people
would be unable to control the urge to gamble. Effie Chee
stressed that our people 'overdo' drinking and that they will
probably 'overdo' gambling" (EDC 1993: 12).
Our reading of the subcommittee testimony indicates
significant grassroots expressions of concern about the effects
of gaming on the fabric of Navajo society and individual
members of the tribe. Underlying these concerns was a clear
recognition that while casinos might attract tourists and thus
draw revenues from non-Navajos, a substantial portion of the
Navajo population itself would engage in these activities.
Indeed, the opening of the Ute Mountain Ute casino at Towaoc
(30 miles north of Shiprock) demonstrated that Navajos would
risk dollars at casinos. Our observations, and those of Navajos
we have asked, are that the largest segment of the gamblers at
the Towaoc casino are Navajo. The chairman of the Navajo
Nation's Economic Development Committee, David John,
stated "just look at Towoac [sic] ...That place fills up with
Navajos" (Kammer 1994:B2).
In July, 1994 the Tribal Council passed a gaming ordinance
by a substantialmargin (55- 16).President Zah who had in principle
supported gaming nevertheless vetoed the measure (Rushton
1994b:Al). The veto came less than a week prior to the primary
election in which Zah was campaigning for re-election. A
seemingly miffed EDC member, Herbert Pioche, said 'The veto
means we're losing over $100 million dollars annually and also
over 4,000 permanent jobs" (Rushton 1994a: 1). President Zah
explained that "the issue of gaming raises many social questions,
especially in an environment of poverty and high unemployment"
(Rushton 1994a:l). Zah added that two of the communities
proposed as casino sites had passed resolutions against gaming.
Zah proposed submitting the issue to the electorate. Councilman
~ i o c h cogently
commented on the veto: "It's the moral issues
versus economic development revenues" (Rushton 1994a: 1).


Zah's veto seems easy to explain in political terms. Like

state governors and the president of the United States, the president
of the Navajo Nation is a popularly elected official. He is attuned
to issues of major interest to the entire body politic. Tribal
councilmen, as legislators, less frequently find their political
careers touched by any single issue of policy. Zah recognized
widespread grass-roots concern over gaming. The Council
members might be rather insulated from the moral concerns,
but Zah was not. He sought a middle path -veto and referendum.
An attempt to override Zah's veto failed (Propp 1994:Al).
The legislative subcommittee chairperson, Bennie Shelley,
complained about Zah's veto yet echoed Zah's concern. Shelley
stated that "It's going to take time and money to educat[e] the
Navajo public on the benefits of gaming" (Donovan 1994a:A-1).
In September the council voted to place the issue on the
ballot. Five sites were designated for erection of casinos Lechee, Cameron (both areas frequented by tourists headed to
the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell), Canyoncito (near
Albuquerque), Shiprock (the reservation's largest population
center and located adjacent to a large non-Indian population at
Farmington, New Mexico) and near the New Lands along
Interstate 40. The EDC held hearings at each location but turnout
was low. Less than a dozen individuals typically attended these
hearings (Engler 1994a:Al).
There was minimal coverage of the issue in the local
newspapers prior to the November general election. The Gallup
Independent, which has a large reservation readership, carried
an article stressing the addictive nature of gambling and the social
ills that accompanied Indian gaming in Canada (Rushton 1994~).
Just prior to the election the Navajo Tmes (Donovan 1994b)
ran a short article noting uncertainty over the outcome of the
election and focusing largely on gaming as a revenue generator.
Perhaps more significantly this issue of the Navajo Times
also ran a short letter to the editor from Raymond Daw, director
of the Na'nizhoozhi Center, a large alcohol detoxification and
counseling center in Gallup. He wrote:
My experience is that our people are desperately fighting
alcoholism, which is an addiction, and gambling is an
addiction. Instead of going for gaming as an easy way
to get money, we need to look for solutions that doesn't
[sic] hurt Navajo people (Daw 1994:A-5).
Our informal conversations with Navajos in the weeks prior to
the election elicited a number of thoughtful and intelligent
concerns about gaming. A number of people focused on the
problem of "addictions" and the need to protect families. Others
cited a lack of concrete information about the specifics of the
gaming proposal. Several people distrusted leaders and
bureaucrats who advocated gaming without offering people
enough information to reach their own conclusions. Most
weighed these concerns against the potential revenue stream.
Many were uncertain about how they would balance these
concerns when it came to a 'yes' or 'no' on the gaming vote.

The Election

On November 8, 1994 Navajos went to the polls for both

tribal and state elections. The gaming referendum was defeated

by a vote of 28,073 "No" (54.5%) to 23,450 "Yes" (45.5%)

(Navajo Elections Newsletter (NEN) 1995). Navajo voters also
ousted incumbent President Peterson Zah. Albert Hale. a 44year-old lawyer, defeated Zah by about 5,000 votes(of 59,324
cast for the office)(NEN 1995). Neither candidate seemed to
consider the gaming issues as important in the presidential
contest (Brodsky 1994:A-1).
The Navajo Nation is divided into 110 local political units,
"chapters." The gaming issue received majority support in only
24 chapters. These chapters included Shiprock and Canyoncito
(proposed casino sites), Ft. Defiance and several adjacent
chapters and a set of chapters around Gallup. With the exception
of Ft. Defiance, St. Michaels and two other chapters along the
New Mexico state line, none of the chapters in Arizona endorsed
the proposal. In eleven additional chapters, the proposal was
narrowly defeated, receiving 48% to nearly 50% of the vote.
Apart from Lechee (a proposed casino site) most of these
chapters were adjacent to areas of stronger support (NEN 1995).
Among chapters where the proposed casinos were to be
located, the vote was generally close and results were mixed.
Voters at Shiprock and Canyoncito approved the proposal
(52.5% and 50.7% yes, respectively). However, the proposal
was defeated at Lechee (48.4% yes), Cameron (42.7% yes) and
in chapters along Interstate 40 in Arizona (NEN 1995).
Some Navajo policy makers believed the issue's defeat
stemmed from a lack of information available to the people,
but former Navajo Election Administration Director Richie Nez
disagreed, attributing the defeat to "moral" concerns:
"No matter how much you educate people, especially
the older people, they still associate gambling with
alcoholism, and all other vices," Nez said. "They just
don't see any good coming out of it" (Engler 1994b:A2).

Table 1.

Gaming Vote by Sex










24 1


Chi-square = 7.45

d.f. = 1

p < .O1

Sex Differences
The 501 interviewees were evenly divided between women
(246) and men (255). There is no statistically significant
difference by sex of interviewees among the six chapters. More
men were interviewed in Shiprock and St. Michaels, while
female interviewees outnumbered males in the other four
Of the 453 voters who cast a vote on the gaming referendum,
male voters slightly favored the issue (53%) but females
opposed it by a substantial margin (see Table 1).
The difference between the sexes decreases (and becomes
statistically insignificant), however, when the Lechee chapter
voters are removed from the analysis. In Lechee, a proposed
gambling site, the malelfemale differences on the gambling
issue are exaggerated - Lechee women opposed gambling
more than most women in our sample; Lechee men favored it
to a greater degree than men in other chapters. By contrast, in
another proposed casino site, Shiprock, the percentage of men
and women voting on the issue was identical (52% no). In two
other chapters (Aneth and St. Michaels) both men and women
opposed gaming.'
Age Differences

In an attempt to learn something about voting behavior in

the Navajo election, exit polling was undertaken at six chapter^:^
Aneth, Ganado, St. Michaels, Lechee and the two largest Navajo
chapters -Tuba City and Shiprock. Aneth and Shiprock both
touch the Four Comers. Ganado and St. Michaels are in the
south-central area. Tuba City and Lechee are among the
westernmost Navajo chapters.
Both Shiprock and Tuba City are agency towns with a large
number of government employees. St. Michaels is somewhat
similar because it includes part of Window Rock, the Navajo
Nation's capital. Lechee, the site of a coal-powered generating
plant, is adjacent to the non-reservation town of Page, a tourist
center. Ganado is a medium sized chapter and the site of a
hospital and a community college. Aneth, the most "rural"
chapter in the sample, covers an area of gas and oil fields.
The exit poll consisted of a few questions asked of each
voter: sex, age, presidential vote, presidential primary vote, and
gaming referendum vote. Voters were also asked to give a reason
for their presidential and referendum choices.
We obtained information from 501 voters across the six
chapters. Of course, we cannot claim to have a representative
sample of the reservation-wide vote and even in the chapters
sampled there may be some selection bias.' Nevertheless, the
data offer some interesting clues about the defeat of the gaming

The age of 484 interviewees was obtained. Ages ranged from

18 to 93 years. The median age was 40. The mean age of women
in our sample (40.7) was slightly less than that of men (43.5).
About 70% of the sample was under age 50.
The age distribution varies by chapter, perhaps reflecting
some sampling bias. At Aneth nearly 75% of the sample was
under age 40. This deviates from the chapter's 1990 census
population profile -only 59% of the voting age population is
under 40.5 At Lechee 64% of the respondents were under 40
which fits closely with the chapter's age distribution. Older
voters (those over 50) accounted for a high proportion of the
Tuba City (40%) and St. Michaels' (42%) voters, about double
the percentage of the resident voting age population.
Discrepancies between census data and the sample profiles may
be due to factors other than sampling bias. For example, a
Navajo chapter member need not reside in the chapter in which
she votes. In addition, there may have been differences in
turnout by age that vary by chapter.
Data on age and gaming vote were obtained for 455
individuals. We grouped these individuals into 3 age cohorts:
18 to 34 (young voters), 35 to 50 (middle age voters) and over
50 (voters who were primarily bom before and during the
upheaval of the Navajo livestock economy in the 1930s).There
is no statistically significant difference on the gaming vote
among voters in the younger two age cohorts. Both slightly
VOL. 5 6 . NO. 3 FALL 1997


Table 2.

Table 3.

Gaming Vote by Age

Chi-square = 37.57
















d.f. = 2

p < .O1


favored the gaming proposition. Voters over 50 overwhelming

opposed it (see Table 2).
Interestingly, at Aneth, the youngest category of voters
opposed gaming nearly 3 to 1. In no other chapter did voters of
this age reject the measure. In no chapter did voters over 50
favor gaming. However, in both "agency towns" the margins
of difference were relatively small. Although we did not
ascertain occupation, our suggestion is that long-time BIA and
tribal employees in these agency towns may account for the
more favorable reception of gaming in these two chapters. The
reasons for supporting gaming by older voters in these two
agency towns seem to fit with the views expressed by younger
voters throughout the reservation. At Shiprock, for example, a
62-year-old man said he supported the proposition because it
would bring jobs and topless dancing and a 66-year-old
supported it because "we need to spend the money on our [own]
Nation." A 56-year-old Shiprock woman voted for gaming as a
revenue generator despite her belief that it was "good for the
young but not the elders." A 63-year-old Tuba City man
supported gaming because the tribe "has to support itself' to
provide money for chapters, business, and public works.
In sum, Nez's observation that older voters opposed gaming
is correct. While those under 50 approved legalized gaming by
a margin of about 56% to 44%, the generations born before
and during World War I1 overwhelmingly rejected the proposal
(76% voting no).
Gaming and the Presidential Vote
Given President Zah's veto of the Tribal Council measure
authorizing gaming, one might expect a relationship between
the gaming and presidential votes. However, both Zah
supporters and Hale voters narrowly opposed gaming (5 1% and
55%, respectively). There was little association between the
candidates and the referendum in the press, in the minds of the
voters or in the actual votes.
The Combined Effects of Age and Sex
Controlling for the relationship between age and sex we can
show a straightforward relationship between each of these two
independent variables on the gaming vote6 (see Table 3).
The data fit a model in which both sex and age independently
affect the vote on gaming. The odds-ratios show that women,
regardless of age, were 1.9 times more likely than men to oppose
gambling. Those over 50, regardless of sex, were 4.3 times more
likely than younger voters to vote against gaming. Thus, the
group most favoring gaming was younger men. Older women
were eight times more likely than young men to vote against



Gaming Vote by Age and Sex

Age Group
Vote on GamblingYes
Odds on Voting "No" on the Gaming Referendum'
Women: Men
Older: Youneer
'Model: Age*Sex Age*Gamble Sex*Gamble (i.e. no 3-way interaction)
Likelihood ratio chi-square = .077 df=l p=.78

If a fourth variable, the voter's chapter, is added to the model,

the relationships become quite complex. There is an interaction
effect among the 3 independent variables (age, sex, and chapter)
that precludes any elegant and simple solution for predicting
the gambling vote. That is, there are distinctive voting patterns
at each chapter. We have mentioned, for example, the
exaggerated maletfemale differences at Lechee and the strong
opposition of younger voters at Aneth. Given the manner in
which our data were collected and the small number of
respondents in each chapter, it is difficult to make much of
these differences among communities.
The Voters' Comments: Reasons Determining the Gaming Vote
Voters were asked to give a reason for their vote on the
gaming issue. Some were quite loquacious but most provided
succinct responses ranging from "not good" and "we need jobs"
to "not good for us."
About a quarter of all voters questioned (23.6%) did not
give a comment concerning gambling (including those who
abstained from voting on the issue) or gave a comment that
was merely a restatement of a vague positive or negative
assessment of the issue.
The 382 voters who did offer comments were equally divided
among yes (192) and no (190) voters. Voters favoring gambling
overwhelming (149 of 192) cited reasons associated with
economic development (primarily more jobs and more tribal
revenues). Only eight pro-gaming voters specifically referred
to the experience of other tribes in adopting gaming. A small
proportion (29 of 192) gave personal reasons for their vote (e.g.:
"I like to gamble," and "it's fun").
Those voting 'no' offered primarily what we have labeled
as "moral" or "social cost" reasons (1 10 of 190). Nearly half of
these (49) were quite general responses such as it's "not good,"
"we will lose" by it or it will "ruin people." These cryptic
objections indicate a belief that casino gaming would have
negative social consequences. Many people (41) specified that
gaming was related to specific kinds of social problems,
especially alcoholism or crime. Some of these voters asserted
that gambling was either an addictive behavior like alcoholism
or a social problem like crime. Slightly over 10% of 'no' voters
(20) gave reasons related to children, the elderly or families
(because, as one person put it, gambling would "tear families
apart"). A few (1 8) gave personal reasons ("I don't gamble").
Only a handful of voters opposed gambling on the basis that it
was contrary to Navajo tradition (12), that Navajos were "not
ready for it" (1 1) or that they had insufficient information on
which to make a judgement (14).

The reasons for voting 'no' or 'yes' differed little by age or

sex. Males and females voting 'yes' were equally likely to refer
to economic development and old and young 'no' voters were
equally likely to cite moral issues as reasons for their vote.
Clearly, most voters defined the issue as one of tribal concern
rather than one of purely personal preference. Voters differed
on their assessments of whether gaming would provide
economic benefits sufficient to outweigh social costs to kinsmen
and other tribal members. Those voting 'yes' appear to have
adopted the position of the tribal council that economic
development was a benefit that could be achieved by the Navajo
tribe as it has been achieved by other American Indian tribal
sovereignties. Those voting 'no' indicated that the social costs
or social ills would outweigh any economic benefits derived
from gaming. Although most respondents did not specifically
note differences between the Navajo and other tribes, it seems
clear that they expected the clientele at casinos to include
substantial numbers of tribal members and that many of these
people gamble in a fashion that would harm family members
financially or in other ways. No reservation casino would only
(or even primarily) draw dollars from off-reservation
populations. Several voters noted that Navajos would gamble
at Navajo Nation casinos as they currently gamble at Ute
Mountain (or Las Vegas, Nevada). Several voters who gave
comprehensive comments on their objections to gaming
believed that the Navajo Tribe would spend more to care for
neglected children and grandparents and to rehabilitate
"addictive" gamblers, than the tribe would gain in gaming
Navajos who voted against the gaming referendum were thus
concerned primarily with the social welfare of tribal members,
not "abstract" moral issues. Nor were these voters significantly
guided by notions of "tradition."
Unfortunately, we did not ascertain the religious affiliation
of each voter. There were less than a dozen responses that
indicated religious reasons for voting 'no.' A 68-year old man
said that "the Great Spirit did not put us here for that, it's very
bad." A 26-year -old woman said that "according to our
traditional teachings, we should not gamble -it's against our
religion." She added that her 'no' vote was also because of "our
Aunt B_'s experience with gambling." The responses citing
tradition are interesting precisely because they are unusual and
indicate idiosyncratic perspectives about "traditional" Navajo
One might expect more "religious" based opposition from
fundamentalist Christian Navajos rather than "traditional"
Navajos. A 43-year-old Lechee man commented that he voted
no for "religious reasons" because "gambling is a vice, a vice
is a sin, sin breeds wickedness and wickedness leads to
destruction." Only a few other responses clearly reflect such
fundamentalist rhetoric. One might expect opposition from
fundamentalist Christian Navajos but there was little, if any,
organized Christian opposition to the gambling referendum.
There may, however, have been some preaching at churches
and revival meetings. This would -be a worthwhile area for
further inquiry.
Several Native American Church (NAC) members are
known from informal interviews to have supported the
referendum. One Shiprock resident (not an NAC member) told
us (with a somewhat disparaging grin) that if one wants to find
a roadman, the first place to look is at the Towaoc casino. A

roadman from a neighboring community confirmed that he often

gambled there as did some other NAC roadmen. On the other
hand, some NAC roadmen said they opposed casino gambling.
Overall, voters eschewed religious reasons and assessed the
current effect of gaming upon people they knew (or knew
about). Those opposing gaming viewed social costs as
outweighing putative economic benefits. Voters favoring
gaming seem to have used a similar calculus but envisioned
the benefits in terms of employment and tribal revenues as
sufficient to compensate for the costs.
Thus, at one level, Navajo voting behavior on this particular
issue can be interpreted as a "cost-benefit" approach to social
policy. This seems particularly true since the leading proponents
of gaming offered little or no specific evidence on the level of
economic benefits to be derived from gaming. Thus,
resubmission of the issue, coupled with a demonstration that
gaming revenues would be sufficient to cover social costs and
would be so allocated, might lead to Navajo voter approval of
casino gaming.
The gaming issue may have tapped a deep reservoir of
skepticism regarding claimed benefits of new government
sponsored initiatives. Many of the "moral" objectors appear
similar in their views to Navajos with whom we have spoken
at greater length. There is no entrenched ideological opposition
to the concept of gaming but there are suspicions regarding
governmental initiatives touted vaguely as beneficial.

In an interview conducted nearly a year after the election,
former President Zah identified four reasons that influenced
his decision to veto the Tribal Council's gaming resolution and
call for a referendum. First, the council did not specify how
gambling generated revenues would be used. Second, the
council designated sites for casinos contrary to the wishes of
the affected communities. Third, sovereignty would be
impinged by the signing of compacts with the states. Zah
asserted that "many of the elderly people said don't sign
compacts." Fourth, according to Zah, "it was a morality issue"
(Zah 1995).
According to Butler and Ranney (1978:224), "few countries
have referred moral issues, apart from liquor control, to popular
votes." Moreover, few issues have been subject to referendum
on the Navajo Reservation since the rejection of the Indian
Reorganization Act in the 1930s. The referral of the gaming
matter to the Navajo populace seems to have been a judicious
use of the referendum process. Gaming has been a focal point
for factionalism and violence on some reservations, for example
at Akwesasne (Hornung 1991). It is the sort of potentially bitter
and divisive issue that may benefit from legitimation by popular
vote (see Butler and Ranney 1978:222-223).
Navajo voters rejected the measure to legalize gaming in
the 1994 referendum by a relatively narrow margin. Although
the defeat of the measure can largely be attributed to older voters
and to female voters, concerns over pragmatic moral issues,
especially the social costs of gaming, were reasons cited by
'no' voters of all ages and both sexes. It seems to us that the
"conservatism" of older voters should not be attributed to any
"cultural" opposition to gaming. To the contrary, gaming has
long been a integral part of Navajo social life. Voters' opposition
VOL. 56, NO. 3 FALL 1997


was based on pragmatic, rather than abstract, moral concerns

about the effect that gaming would have on families.
Moreover, as President Zah's comments indicate, older
voters are far from naive about issues of sovereignty and state
compacts. They have had experience with development plans
and schemes which have failed to deliver on promised benefits
and which have entailed unintended social consequences.
Although some commentators (Goodman 1995: 105) assert that
tribal sovereignty is protected under the IGRA, this is far from
clear. Indian gaming has resulted in great controversies in a
number o f states. I n Wisconsin, for example, Governor
Thompson has pushed to renegotiate compacts so that the state
could benefit from gaming generated revenues (Mayers 1996).
In California Governor Wilson and Attorney General Lungren
have battled to limit tribal gaming (Barfield 1995). In 1995
Congressman Archer, chairman of the House Ways and Means
Committee, proposed a 35% federal tax on Indian gaming
revenues. T h e tax passed the House of Representatives (Kane
1995). Indian leaders helped mobilize a conservative network
of anti-tax groups which ultimately convinced Archer to drop
the provision (Victor 1995).
Despite the fate of this particular tax, it is very possible that
continued controversy will create a climate in which Indian
sovereignty is eroded. In addition to potential in-roads on the
legal scope of tribal sovereignty, gaming may lead to d e facto
limitations on tribal sovereignty if Congress, ignoring its trust
responsibilities, decides to limit funding to tribes with
substantial gaming revenues. This might require tribes to use
gambling revenues to make-up the cuts in federal programs.
The Reagan administration supported tribal gaming because it
"hoped g a m b l i n g would reduce tribal dependence o n
Washington" (Goodman 1995: 111).
While most Navajo voters were not conversant with the
details of gaming controversies in other states, many were aware
that such controversies existed. But any controversy between
state and tribal governments has the potential to influence
Congress to further restrict tribal sovereignty. Some voters
indicated this was a concern.
It is difficult to assess what the Navajo gaming referendum
may mean for other tribal polities.' Mezey (1996:732) has
argued that IGRA constrains tribes to deal with the issues of
how much sovereignty can be sacrificed before the costs of
gaming outweigh its benefits? Are the tolls on sovereignty and
culture exerted by gaming under the IGRA preferable to those
caused by persistent poverty? Since the Navajo Nation is rather
remote from centers of non-Indian population, reservation
casinos would probably attract more local Navajos than nonIndians. Thus the tolls on Navajo society and sovereignty are
additive. Navajo referendum voters, as of 1994, determined the
tolls were too great.

received useable data (60 or more completed interviews) from only 6

There were several problems that led to the inability to conduct a
broader canvas of voters. Delays in receiving permission from the
Navajo Tribe made it difficult to line up interviewers for some
communities. Six bilingual Navajo interviewers were finally hired.
One covered both St. Michaels and Ganado. Each other interviewer
worked only one chapter. The interviewer in Upper Fruitland obtained
less than a dozen responses. She attributed the problem to bitter weather
and the fact that ABC News was also doing exit polls in that precinct
for state and federal elections. Her assessment was that voters did not
wish to be bothered twice and that the ABC polling was much more
professionally done.
Interviewers approached each voter as they left the precinct. Since
voting was relatively heavy, especially at the larger chapters such as
Shiprock and Tuba City, not everyone could be approached by a single
individual. The sample thus represents an "opportunity sample" of
The greatest discrepancy (and only statistically significant one)
between sample vote and total chapter vote is at St. Michaels where
the referendum carried 53.6% to 46.4% but our sample opposed gaming
63.5% to 36.5%. Moreover, the total referendum vote was about 12%
less than the total vote in the presidential race at St. Michaels whereas
it was about 16% less in our sample.
At both Shiprock and Lechee our sample gave an outcome different
from the chapter vote but given the close vote, the differences are not
statistically significant.
In our sample there seems to have been greater participation in
voting on the gambling issue in the chapters sampled than was
generally true on the reservation. About 9% of the voters interviewed
did not vote on the gambling issue. Reservation-wide, the gambling
vote was about 13% less than the presidential vote. Interestingly, in
Ganado and St. Michaels abstention on the issue slightly exceeded
the reservation average while in Shiprock and Lechee (proposed
gaming sites) only about 7% did not vote on the referendum (about
half the general abstention rate). In chapters adjacent to proposed
gaming locations voting on the issue was also higher than the
reservation average: Aneth (9% abstention) and Tuba City (5%
At St. Michaels men voted more heavily against gambling than
did women. This may be a sampling problem. When the Lechee data
are deleted from the analysis, 59% of women and 54% of men voted
opposed gaming. The chi-square is only .97 and statistically
* Chapter population data are from various tables in 1990 Census:
Population and Housing Characteristics of the Navajo Nation

(Rodgers 1993).
6Thisanalysis was performed using the HOLOGLINEAR program
in SPSSPC. See also Knoke and Burke (1980).
' The Hopi Tribe also rejected class 111 gaming in a referendum
held in the spring of 1995 but this was for an off-reservation gaming
site. In the Hopi election, 58% voted "no". The one news account we
have seen (Schill 1995) reports that the primary opposition to gaming
was on religious grounds and several voters quoted mentioned
preserving Hopi tradition. Although a social cost calculus may lurk
beneath the rhetoric of tradition, the Hopis quoted did not explicitly
focus on social ills and costs in the way stressed by Navajo voters in
our sample.


Public Law 100-497, codified at 25 U.S.C. sections 2701-2021.

Note on methods: We applied to the Navajo Nation Cultural
Resources Department for a research permit. Eventually both the
Department and the Board of Election Supervisors approved the
proposal. On November 3, 1994 we received Navajo Nation Cultural
Resources Investigation Permit No. C9421-E under which the polling
was conducted. We originally planned to poll in 13 chapters but




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