The remarkably reserved Hopi people of the Four Corners area caused a small but welcome storm in the Southwest desert recently by voting against gambling.
The late May referendum would've authorized some 500 slot machines on Hopi land. It was defeated 1,051 to 784 out of 8,525 eligible voters. And the vote was consistent with a 1995 Hopi vote against gambling, suggesting it might have something to do with Hopi culture, arguably more deep-seated and religious than that of some other tribes.
"Gaming is making money off other people's bad habits, and the Hopi way says we should not use other people's bad habits to benefit," said tribal vice chairman Caleb Johnson to the Associated Press after the vote.
Yet opening casinos on native American land is tempting, especially if they bring jobs and money to impoverished tribes. And for the Hopis, like so many others, new revenue is needed. For instance, they may lose nearly $8 million in royalties from a coal mine if a power plant that uses coal on Hopi lands shuts down.
Of the more than 500 tribes in the United States, only 145 have gambling agreements with their respective states. Still, those casinos were a $17 billion industry in 2003, up $2 billion from 2002.
The Hopis can serve as an example to other tribes - and to states looking for easy revenue by resorting to gambling. With high rates of alcoholism and drug abuse among many Native Americans, the Hopis' choice to avoid another vice is a virtue that can't be ignored.