Book Review: Gambling with the Future by Yale D. Belanger

The history of the social and economic impoverishment of aborigines of North America in general and Canada in particular is fairly well documented.  But the effect of European colonization and settlements in Canada has had a destructive effect on aboriginal gaming and gambling as well.  This latter aspect of the  history of aboriginal life under European rule has not attracted the attention of scholars and researchers in the past.  Yale Belanger attempts to fill this void by carrying out a detailed and systematic study of the subject.  This book is an important contribution to the relatively small collection of Canadian literature pertaining to the aborigines.  As a result, it could be invaluable for students, historians, government officials, policy makers, social activists, etc.

The book also briefly compares the native gambling institutions of Canada to that of the United States.  What emerges is that the course taken by the gambling industry in these two countries is culturally and politically quite different in spite of their many historical similarities.

The author adopts a very thorough and methodical approach in writing this book.  For example, he refers to a wide range of already published scholarship to provide evidence in support of this arguments.  The author focuses on the origins and subsequent evolution of high-stakes gambling among certain indigenous communities in Canada.  Through this, he extrapolates the effect on the entire native Canadian population.  This method may work for scientific research, but in the realm of social studies it is not robust.  It is in this area that the author can make further improvements.

Yale Belanger covers several important themes in this book.  One of the themes is the relation of Canadian Aboriginal gaming industry on the rest of the Canadian economy.  An interesting fact that emerges from the analysis is the strong dependence of the economies of local communities on the aboriginal gaming industry, for the latter usually employs non-aboriginal management teams and also attracts many non-aboriginal customers and patrons.  Hence, Aboriginal gaming and gambling in Canada cannot be studied in the absence of the larger socio-political context.

The other major theme of the book is the changes that took place in Aboriginal gaming before and after European colonization of North America.  Irrespective of the prevailing view of aboriginal gambling as something that is original and traditional, there has been many changes effected by the dominant European culture.

The challenges faced by the aboriginal gambling institutions is also a theme of the book.  The author seems to paint a pessimistic picture of the future of aboriginal gambling in Canada.

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