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How tribes can win with ESG practices

Jun 02, 2022
By: Grant Eve

The pressure is rising for tribes to show their environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies to potential employees, customers and vendors.

Tribal councils and casino leadership should thoroughly examine and re-set objectives, where necessary, to ensure they’re meeting the amped up expectations. ESG priorities, which may be at an infancy stage, can be set up by the tribe and casinos separately or developed as a joint ESG program.

ESG key issues

In 2001, the American Gaming Association launched it launched its first study of member initiatives and investments related to ESG. Here’s a snapshot of key ESG issues they shared.

Advancing sustainability

  • Committing to carbon footprint reductions and deploying alternative energy solutions
  • Reducing resource consumption by conserving water and electricity, eliminating food waste, and recycling plastic waste.

Strengthening DEI

  • Increasing racial, gender and ethnic diversity in management and board positions
  • Encouraging equitable career advancement for all employees
  • Seeking out diverse suppliers and vendors
  • Supporting equality and social justice efforts through philanthropy and community partnerships

Community investments

  • Spurring economic development and community revitalization through capital investment, job creation and local business support
  • Expanding educational and career development opportunities by providing scholarships and mentoring
  • Providing support during natural disasters and other local crises

Responsible leadership

  • Protecting and empowering casino customers by investing in responsible gaming programs and equipping them with educational tools for wagering responsibly.
  • Exceeding regulatory requirements to ensure a trusted gaming experience
  • Promoting a responsible culture with employee training on problem gambling and human trafficking and the tenets of responsible gaming

The report cited some noteworthy examples of ESG practices in action among tribal gaming. The Chickasaw Nation’s preferred vendor database includes a registry of hundreds of minority- and veteran-owned businesses that qualify for preferred bidding status with Chickasaw’s organization. In 2020, the Chickasaw Nation spent more than $47 million with minority- and veteran-owned vendors.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians along with its gaming arm Wind Creek Hospitality have donated more than $85 million into community organizations and initiatives since 2013. In 2020-2021, their particular philanthropic focus was on COVID-19 related relief, family centers, local education, parks and museums.

While many tribal councils and associated casinos may be committed to supporting such socially responsible initiatives, the challenge is on to be sure smart implementation strategies are in place. As more standardized ESG requirements emerge, tribal communities and casinos need to be prepared to provide accountability.

How to start ESG reporting

1. Educate your tribal council and casino leaders

The first step is to educate senior leadership on what ESG is, why it’s important and how it benefits the casino, the tribe and the wider community. Without buy-in from the top, any attempts to implement ESG are ill-fated. Once leadership fully understands ESG, they need to communicate their commitment and how much time and effort they want to allocate to it.

2. Determine what’s important

With so many issues contained in ESG, tribes and casinos need to establish their own goals and priorities. Social issues, like diversity in hiring, may be a more important local issue than greenhouse gas emissions. Take the time to decide what’s most important to address internally and report on.

3. Identify data points and collection approaches

In order to report on your chosen ESG priorities, you’ll need data. Identify what data is already being collected and what data you need to begin tracking. Data from disparate sources may need to be consolidated. Consider how various technology solutions can provide assistance with data collection, consolidation and visualization.

It’s also important to measure progress toward achieving your ESG goals. Because data will likely come from a variety of sources, you may need multiple iterations to ensure data is accurate and aligns with measurement goals. Data validation is important in ensuring sound and reliable results.

4. Implement internal controls around your data

To maintain the integrity of data, implement internal controls around its governance. Accountants and other consultants can help determine what these controls should be. Third parties will also be valuable in validating data, as they can attest to its accuracy. As industry standards become common for ESG practices, it’s important not to be left behind when stakeholders examine reporting methods and results.

How Wipfli can help

There is no one-size fits all solution to developing, validating and promoting an ESG program. Even if your tribal council or gaming organization is already known for practices that align with ESG, you’ll benefit from Wipfli’s advisory team that can help you set up a program to reduce risk, ensure compliance and stand out from competitors. Learn more on our tribal gaming and government services web page

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Grant Eve, CPA, CFE
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