The profits — amounting to $150 million in 2004 and growing to nearly $400 million in 2010 — enabled the tribe to build a new school, hospital, and fire station. However, the lion’s share of the takings went directly into the pockets of the 8,000 men, women, and children of the Eastern Band Cherokee tribe. From $500 a year at the outset, their earnings from the casino quickly mounted to $6,000 in 2001, constituting a quarter to a third of the average family income.
As coincidence would have it, a Duke University professor by the name of Jane Costello had been researching the mental health of youngsters south of the Great Smoky Mountains since 1993.
…Soon after the casino opened, Costello was already noting huge improvements for her subjects. Behavioral problems among children who had been lifted out of poverty went down 40%, putting them in the same range as their peers who had never known privation. Juvenile crime rates among the Cherokee also declined, along with drug and alcohol use, while their school scores improved markedly. At school, the Cherokee kids were now on a par with the study’s non-tribal participants.
An additional $4,000 per year for the poorest households increases educational attainment by one year at age 21, and reduces the chances of committing a minor crime by 22 percent for 16 and 17 year olds. Our evidence suggests improved parental quality is a likely mechanism for the change.