Shortly after Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) in 1988, casinos started appearing on reservations across North America and generating billions of dollars for some formerly destitute tribes. Despite general enthusiasm about gaming in Indian country, the Navajo Nation, the largest Native American nation in the United States, was one of the last holdouts against gaming until quite recently. Some Navajos voiced concerns over the danger of compromising sovereignty through state gaming compacts. Others feared that gaming would attract social ills to their communities. Among those who opposed gaming on what can be termed traditional grounds, many reiterated age-old prohibitions against excess, warnings about witchcraft, statements about the importance of family, fundamental tensions between the simultaneous desire for personal agency and the need for group consensus—which operate within the framework of strong interdictions against any person attempting to control another—and narratives from Navajo oral tradition about a deity known as The Gambler that focus on the dangers of gambling and the various forms of “enslavement” it can cause. It is relevant that Navajo elders and traditionalists focused heavily on this concern because, although Congress ignored it when passing the IGRA, subsequent research reveals that due to the treatment they have received historically, colonized or previously colonized peoples have a greater risk of developing problematic relationships with gambling than members of the conquering populations.

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