Donors: Betting on the Future

A historic donation from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians to the Boyd School of Law strives to increase understanding, promote education about tribal gaming

Wednesday, December 23, 2020
Chairman Ken Ramirez

By Paul Szydelko

Misconceptions about Indian gaming persist decades after the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, so educating players on casino floors—and even industry executives—was one of the primary motivations for the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians to offer a $9 million gift to UNLV earlier this year.

Among the misunderstandings: Indian gaming and commercial gaming are the same. Commercial gaming, in fact, is a profit-making enterprise for the benefit of casino owners. Conversely, Indian gaming—more accurately called “tribal government gaming”—generates revenue for essential infrastructure and services in a tribe’s jurisdiction, such as education, health care, public safety, law enforcement, and other common obligations towns, cities, and states across the country provide for their citizens.  

The $9 million gift is being shared by the UNLV William F. Harrah College of Hospitality ($6 million) and the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law ($3 million) to develop and promote education, research, and awareness as it relates to tribal hotel-casinos. The Boyd School of Law’s portion will be used to support a professor-in-residence, a visiting professor, and a program administrator who will create opportunities for interdisciplinary dialogue and research on governance, regulation, and economic development issues facing Indian gaming.

“Education is the only prescription for building understanding between Indian tribes and others about the uniqueness of tribal government gaming,” says Ken Ramirez, San Manuel tribal chairman. “The Native American Law and Governance initiative at the Boyd School of Law will help build that understanding.”

The California-based tribe not only seeks to inform others about gaming on Indian lands but also to establish education as a foundational value going forward, Ramirez says.

“Our top priority is to provide quality educational opportunities for our citizens that will enable them to lead successful and productive lives,” Ramirez says. “Our path in the world depends on factual understanding and respectful interactions with other jurisdictions, other businesses, and other communities. … It is in the best interests of Indian country to extend educational opportunities about tribal governments and tribal gaming to others.”

Funds from the gift will help form a scholarship for students pursuing a Masters of Law (LL.M.) in Gaming Law and Regulation at Boyd, which is the only law school in the nation to offer such a degree. Preference is given to tribal citizens and indigenous student applicants. The first scholarship was awarded recently to Patrick Lambert from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina, who served as executive director for the Cherokee Gaming Commission for 21 years.

The law school will also develop online courses on tribal governance and gaming regulation, conduct an annual workshop or symposium on emerging topics and issues of interest to Indian gaming, and expand its Tribal Law Practicum for students.

The practicum is a yearlong, project-based course in which students partner with tribal nations on projects that strengthen Native American governance. It provides free or low-cost help to tribal nations looking to strengthen their legal and regulatory infrastructure; gives law students experience working with tribal governments; and creates opportunities for students to develop skills in governance, drafting laws, legal research, and client interaction.

Even before awarding the generous gift, the San Manuel Band has maintained a seat on the law school’s Gaming Law Advisory Council for more than a decade. It also has contributed to a biennial Boyd Law course in federal gaming law by attracting nationally renowned speakers in tribal gaming. “We met several cohorts of law students, some of whom have expressed appreciation for the chance to learn about tribal government gaming as a part of their studies,” Ramirez says.

The gift is the largest out-of-state philanthropic donation that San Manuel has bestowed on an educational or health-care institution. Given Boyd’s worldwide reputation as a leading expert in gaming law, Ramirez says the partnership was a no-brainer. “We believe it is a great benefit to all of Indian country for the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law to add tribal gaming law, regulation, and tribal governance to their existing programs.”