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Casinos Seen as Positive Community Force in Oklahoma

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Aside from turning in profits for the tribes that operate them, casinos are also credited for opening hundreds of new jobs that employ Oklahomans. The Cherokee Nation casino has grown from 500 casino employees in 2004 to somewhere around 2,800 today, said Mike Miller. Miller is the spokesman for Cherokee Nation Enterprises. The annual payroll has grown from $39.5 million to almost double at $69 million.

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"Probably the most successful thing we have done is we have reduced our unemployment rate somewhat, particularly in our urban areas like Tulsa and Muskogee," Nelson Johnson, Muscogee (Creek) Nation gaming commissioner said.

The Creek Nation had an estimated 1,300 employees in 2005 said Muscogee (Creek) Nation gaming commissioner Nelson Johnson. Their payroll was about $32 million.

The Creek Nation casino in Muskogee has about 265 of those workers, with an annual payroll of $6 million, said manager of the facility Farrell Kaaihue.

Both the Creek Nation and Cherokee Nation give preference to tribal members in particular and also to Native Americans. But there is also a good number of non-indians employed in smaller communities.

Besides the wages, employees receive good fringe benefits, according to Miller. For instance, employees working full-time for the casinos receive good wages and have very affordable health insurance, the same goes for all tribal employees. Health insurance is one of the privileges that most people from smaller communities have never had.

"It's quite a substantial jump in quality of life for those people," says Johnson.

Communities that house the casinos also rake in the rewards of being in the center of activity. Local commerce and trade are in full swing as restaurants, hotels, gas stations and other businesses get their much-needed jumpstart and breaks.

Aside from using revenues for the growth of their respective casinos, they also are investing money back into tribal governments.

"It goes into education, housing and health care gets a lot. It goes into a lot of governmental programs and services, roads included," explains Miller. "We just opened a new $17 million health clinic in Coweta. A substantial amount of that funding came from our gaming revenues," he further claims. In addition, the tribe also has purchased vehicles for its communities and to serve tribal members.

"It (casino gaming) has improved the quality of life for a lot of our senior citizens," he said.

The casino gaming in this part of the world seem to have bright skies up ahead, with major expansion plans underway.

"The demand is exceeding our supply," Miller said.

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