IGA Report: Indian Gaming Industry at G2E 2023 Represents Prominent Force

G2E 2023 Women Leaders in Tribal Gaming
Ernie Stevens moderated the final day’s keynote address entitled “Shattering Ceilings: Women Leaders in Tribal Gaming.”

The Indian gaming industry converged upon the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) 2023 in Las Vegas last month with a dynamic array of tribal government industry-led standing-room-only workshops and sessions to kick off the global gaming conference on Indigenous People’s Day.

“It is always great to see our tribal government gaming representatives join this global event,” said Indian Gaming Association (IGA) Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr. “Indian gaming plays a vital and significant role in the overall gaming industry’s success, and our representation continues to be a prominent force. These outstanding sessions bring further insight into the significant advancements and successes of our Indian gaming industry.”

The first day’s session included a panel of tribal leaders and advocates in a panel entitled “The Next Era of Tribal Gaming: Politics, Policies, & Opportunities.” The discussion explored the political landscape, policy developments, and emerging trends shaping the future of tribal gaming. The panel also examined the opportunities and challenges faced by gaming tribes and discussed how the industry is adapting to the ever-evolving gaming environment. It further provided insights into potential growth areas, the impact of policy changes, and the influence of emerging technologies, like AI, on the tribal gaming landscape.  

G2E 2023 Tribal Gaming panel discussion
“The Next Era of Tribal Gaming: Politics, Policies, & Opportunities” panel explored the political landscape, policy developments, and emerging trends shaping the future of tribal gaming.

The discussions were moderated by Victor Rocha, Conference Chairman of the Indian Gaming Association, and panelists included Holly Cook Macarro, Principal of The Angle; David Bean, Vice Chairman of the Indian Gaming Association; and Erica M. Pinto, Chairwoman of Jamul Indians.

Tribal gaming sessions continued with the “Evolving Regulatory Landscape of Tribal Gaming: Preparing for the Future” panel. Moderated by Jonodev Chaudhuri, Principal, Chaudhuri Law, the panel brought together Indian gaming regulation industry leaders that included: Jamie Hummingbird, Gaming Commission Director at the Cherokee Nation; Elizabeth Homer, Principal at Homer Law and a lead facilitator of the IGA Seminar Institute; and Les Stanley, Executive Director of the Wilton Rancheria Gaming Commission.  

The session looked at the evolving regulatory landscape of tribal gaming and how it impacts operations, in which industry experts discussed the latest developments in tribal gaming regulation, potential policy changes, and how to prepare for the future. The panelists provided further insights into the challenges and opportunities the changing regulatory environment presents, learned best practices for ensuring compliance and mitigating risk, and expanded on strategies needed to navigate this complex landscape and position tribal gaming operations for continued success.

The first day’s sessions concluded with the “Tribal Crossover: Success with Commercial Entities” panel, where the discussion targeted the tribal gaming success across the country and the future and the increasing pursuit of commercial opportunities and opportunities of tribal crossover into commercial gaming. The panel was moderated by Sheila Morago, Executive Director, OIGA, and panelists included Ray Pineault, President and CEO of Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment; Erin Copeland, Chief Legal and Compliance Officer at San Manuel Band of Mission Indians; and Stephanie Bryan, Chairwoman, Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

During the four days of G2E, gaming panels and educational workshops included a track focusing on Indian gaming-related topics and issues showcasing the success of tribal gaming. An extensive and vast tribal gaming track explored various topics including politics, the legislative landscape, policies, regulation, human trafficking, and economic diversification through Indian gaming.

To celebrate Indigenous People’s Day and recognize the decisive role of Indian Country women leaders, the main stage keynote track at G2E hosted the final day’s address entitled “Shattering Ceilings: Women Leaders in Tribal Gaming.” Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr. moderated and panelists included Holly Cook-Macarro, Principal at the Angle; Chief Executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Mission Indians, Melanie Benjamin; and Chairwoman of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Stephanie Bryant. 

Stevens shared a message about the importance of acknowledging Indigenous People’s Day. “At its core, Indigenous People’s Day is an opportunity to tell the story not only of our perseverance, but our essential contributions to this nation,” said Stevens. “It should be a well-known fact that our ancestors inspired the infrastructure of America’s early democracy. Countless advances in American medicine, agriculture, and engineering, without the influence of Native healers, farmers, and thinkers, would not have been possible. Of course, even before being recognized as United States citizens, Native men and women warriors have stepped up to protect and serve our nation, and this democracy is five times the national average per capita served in our nation’s military.”

Stevens emphasized the importance of the session, recognizing the important role Native women play in Indian Country. “Women are equal in our life and culture from day one,” said Stevens. “Even today, women play a dominant and amazing role in our world in helping our country be where it is today.”

Holly Cook-Macarro shared her path working on behalf of Indian Country and the importance of becoming the authentic voice for Indian Country. “It is important that we tell our stories,” said Cook-Macarro. “I think that was probably my earliest experience of ‘I’m here to do a job’ … Even though I’m in a room full of non-Indians, non-women, and it’s been a good ride – being part of shattering that glass ceiling knowing that people finally understand that there is no better person to learn from than those of us who know our story.”

Chairwoman Bryant said, in part, “I have served for many years in tribal leadership with eight men sitting around the table with me, and of course, they will say that ‘she is a woman, and she will roar, so watch out.’ But it’s those challenges that we go through, and just people who helped shape my life is why I’m on this global stage today to tell the story, shattering glass ceilings.”

Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin added, “I’ve had the honor and the privilege of being elected every four years. And when I think about where I come from – we have a wealth of talent there on our reservation. We have ceremonial people, we have medicine people, we have teachers, we have artists, we have singers – all those people that give me their strength. So, when I walk into a room, I have shattered those ceilings because of those people.”

Ernie Stevens, Danny Trejo G2E
Danny Trejo (left) and Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. (right)

IGA hosted its annual tribal leaders reception at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) on the tradeshow floor and honored special guest film and television star Actor Danny Trejo with the Chairman’s Leadership Award. Trejo has developed a prolific career in the entertainment industry with a hard-earned and atypical road to success. Trejo’s name, face, and achievements are well recognized in Hollywood and beyond – from years of imprisonment to helping troubled youth battle drug addictions; from acting to producing; and now to restaurant ventures.

Trejo has starred in dozens of films, including Desperado, Heat, Con Man, and television shows such as From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series. He also had recurring roles on Sons of Anarchy, King of the Hill, and Breaking Bad.

Trejo accepted the recognition and shared that through research, he discovered he was half Yaqui Indian. He also spoke about his life that led him to his successful acting career. He said he grew up in a life of crime, which, throughout the 1960s, put him in and out of jail and prison. He said he changed his life in 1969 after being released from jail and started helping his neighbors with daily tasks. “And from 1969 to now, that’s all I’ve done is help other people pay it forward,” said Trejo. “That’s all, and my life has turned into an absolute miracle from almost going to the gas chamber to being one of the most recognizable Latinos on the planet. I just want to thank everybody. I want to especially thank you for having invited me today. It means so much.”

Besides his life dedicated to paying it forward, the actor has also seen success with his recently expanded Trejo’s Tacos empire, including eight Los Angeles locations. He also owns and operates Trejo’s Coffee & Donuts, which has proven to be just as successful.

The American Gaming Association (AGA) honored Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby at the invite-only Chairman’s reception as one of the Class of 2023 Gaming Hall of Fame recipients for his significant contributions to the industry. Anoatubby joined four others, including Robert Miodunski, former CEO of American Gaming Systems; George Papanier, former President & CEO of Alliance Gaming and President of Bally Gaming; Jim Murren, former Chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International; and Ellen Whittemore, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of Wynn Resorts.

“I applaud the AGA for their recognition of Governor Anoatubby,” said Stevens. “He has been one of the most significant examples of leadership in Indian Country, working to advance the lives of the Chickasaw Nation through tribal government gaming. He is one of the most respected leaders in Indian Country.”

In addition, the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM) presented the 2023 Peter Mead Memorial Award to IGA Conference Chairman Victor Rocha. The award recognizes excellence in gaming media and communications professionalism.

“Victor has dedicated his life to the success of our Indian gaming industry,” said Chairman Stevens. “He is a significant conduit, instrumental in his commitment to advancing the successes of our industry through his work and communications outreach. His work in media and communication makes him the ideal candidate for this significant honoring.”

For more information about the Indian Gaming Association, visit www.indiangaming.org.