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Democrats take a run at regulation of casinos

WASHINGTON - Gaming, again? That was one reaction to a Senate hearing on tribal casino gaming June 28. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, offered a ''discussion draft'' of a bill that would further regulate Class III gaming through amendment to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.

Kurt Luger, executive director of the Great Plains Indian Gaming Association in Bismarck, N.D., said he was ''absolutely, very surprised'' by the hearing. The problems of regulatory authority in Indian gaming had been hashed out in the previous Congress, he said, when Republicans were the majority party and both chambers, the Senate and House of Representatives, hosted efforts to overhaul IGRA. With Democrats narrowly in the majority now in the current Congress, ''We thought we would be able to not have to deal with this [in] this session,'' Luger said in an interview after the hearing.

Tribal and state governments, under terms of the gaming compacts negotiated between them, already do a good job of regulating Indian gaming, he added.

''My principal point here is that $325 million is going unrecognized by this Congress. Those dollars are the dollars that tribal councils budget for tribal gaming commissions and their [regulatory] relations with the state gaming compacts. That's significant.''

Phil Hogen, chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission, acknowledged the regulatory capability of tribes. But he argued, as he has in the past, that the Indian gaming industry as a whole will be best served by the independent, as it were back-up, regulatory layer NIGC can provide.

''We had and continue to have ... authority to do a number of things. ... Most of those, however, deal with the act of operation of a gambling activity. We look at the use of gaming revenues, the adoption of the tribal gaming ordinance; we continue to get audits we collect in their report on an annual basis. But in terms of that tool that we had, the minimum internal control standards that dealt with where the surveillance cameras are, what the resolution [of the camera lenses] has to be, how you protect the playing cards and things like that, we've been ejected from that arena.''

Hogen was referring to the lawsuit Colorado River Indian Tribes v. National Indian Gaming Commission, in which the court system has ruled that IGRA does not authorize the commission to mandate minimum internal control standards at tribal casinos. Last year's legislative efforts to amend IGRA featured sweeping new powers for the commission over minimum internal control standards at tribal casinos. But those efforts did not become law, and in an impassioned statement Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said he will do his utmost to make any bill coming out of the June 28 discussion draft ''disappear.''

W. Ron Allen, chairman of the Washington Indian Gaming Commission and the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, furthered the opposition by acknowledging that while no law is perfect and every bill needs amending someday, IGRA must only be amended with the greatest care.

''It's not just being careful about the empowerment of the NIGC. It's also being careful about all those other mischievous pieces of legislation that will want to be attached [as rider amendments to any IGRA reform measure] to put more tentacles around Indian country, to continue to badger us with a historical paternalism that we've been experiencing. We can't go down that road.''

Hogen still believes a legislative ''CRIT fix'' is the best way to clarify NIGC regulatory authority, said Joe Valandra of the commission's staff. The commission has also been talking more in recent months with the National Indian Gaming Association, he said.

In its own comments for the hearing record, NIGA suggested the commission get together with tribal governments to work out model tribal ordinance provisions acceptable to NIGC that could then be adopted by gaming tribes. ''Working together, tribal governments and the NIGC can address any minimum internal control standards issues.''