MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - If there is a crisis in American Indian gaming, it
does not come from within the industry - it comes from outside and is
fueled by flawed or non-existent data that is accepted by congressional
leaders, the general public and especially the media, tribal gaming leaders
At a recent gathering of the Great Plains Indian Gaming Association, gaming
and tribal leaders from across the nation exchanged ideas and strategies
for combating unfounded attacks on not just their gaming activities, but
the heart of sovereignty as well.
Attendees at the GPIGA annual trade show and conference said they were
confused over the fact that they cannot find any data, whether from the
National Indian Gaming Commission or elsewhere, that substantiate problems
or scandals, let alone a crisis within the industry.
What tribal gaming officials and leaders consider a crisis is the attempt
to limit fee-to-trust status of land purchased by tribes, the possible
opening of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, NIGC regulation changes for
Class II gaming and governors who court tribes in order to solve growing
Reservation shopping, as the politicos call it, was a subject of great
concern and met with much discussion at the GPIGA conference. All
discussions were held behind closed doors so the participants could speak
freely and honestly about the issue.
While criticism has been leveled against the tribes for reservation
shopping in metropolitan areas that were part of aboriginal homelands, the
tribes have a different viewpoint. First, it is a tribe's right to try to
reacquire their aboriginal homelands; and second, they have a sovereign
right to use the land as they please.
Tribal leaders also claim that the reverse is mostly the case. Governors
seek willing tribes to bring their sovereignty to the metro areas to open
casinos, with the state and tribe sharing the revenues; they call this
States like Minnesota, New York and California are facing major deficits
and the governors are now looking at the tribes to bail them out. Other
governors, who are designated to negotiate gaming compacts with the tribes,
have their eyes set on revenues as well.
"The states are hijacking the tribes and the revenue," said Frank
Ducheneaux, former attorney for Indian Affairs with the House Interior
"IGRA says it is an act of bad faith if the governors ask for revenue."
Ducheneaux said governors Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, George Pataki of New
York and Arnold Schwarzenegger of California - all Republicans - are not
criticized or attacked; instead, "people attack the Indians."
Ducheneaux was the keynote speaker at the annual GPIGA conference.
Comments at hearings held by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., chairman of the
House Resources Committee; and at the latest oversight hearings in the
Senate, comments by Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Committee on
Indian Affairs, drew criticism from the tribal officials.
The land-to-trust discussion at the Senate oversight hearing centered
around gaming more than sovereignty and the right to acquire land, creating
anger among tribal leaders with the fear that any change will add more
roadblocks in the long and difficult task of putting fee land into trust.
Most fee land-to-trust requests are not for the purpose of gaming, tribal
officials said, and those tribes that wish to acquire land for other
purposes will have more difficulty doing so because governors and local
political officials may be given a stronger role that would impact any
Tribal leaders said they also feared opening IGRA for review. The end
result could again create stronger control by the states over tribal
gaming. At the Senate Committee hearing on land into trust on May 18,
McCain said it was time to review the 17-year-old IGRA. He said when the
act was passed nobody had any idea that gaming would reach the size it has.
Even though the tribal gaming officials agreed that there were some
problems with IGRA, to put the act on the table could create much greater
problems for tribes than exist already.
At the GPIGA conference, attendees at more than one task force meeting
unanimously went on record as opposing opening IGRA unless to add a
"Seminole fix." The "Seminole fix" revolves around the misunderstood reason
for IGRA, which was not to disallow tribes from opening gaming enterprises,
but to regulate the type of gaming that would be allowed.
The Seminole tribe of Florida had to sue the state of Florida when the
governor failed to negotiate Class III gaming in good faith. That lawsuit
and a potential secretarial ruling from the Department of Interior have
been stalled by the U.S. Department of Justice. The tribes want resolution
before they will agree to open IGRA.
Ducheneaux said that very few tribes have asked for land into trust for the
purpose of gaming. His question was, "Where's the beef?" He alluded to the
fact that no problems have occurred, only those created by the media and
Of the tribes that have applied, he said, "They want tribal status and very
few applications have been approved.
"This is a red herring created by the anti-gaming people."
For years the Indian gaming industry has tried to convince governments, the
media and regular citizens that the industry is the most regulated of all
gaming activities. Indian gaming has three levels: federal and state
governments and then tribal regulatory commissions.
While Indian gaming creates 500,000 jobs across the country, it takes in
just 23 percent of the nationwide gaming revenue. Indian gaming interests
also spend $200 million on meeting regulations each year.
"Indian country is working hard to do what the customer wants," said Ernie
Stevens Jr., president of the National Indian Gaming Association.
"In our casino [The Radisson Hotel and Conference Center and Oneida Bingo
and Casino in Wisconsin] we know you are there. The parking lot and the
convenience store has cameras, regulation is intense. Regulation is solid
and we can prove it," Stevens told the conference attendees.
He said the naysayers don't ask the tribal gaming officials; they look at
the media and formulate opinions based on half-truths and misconceptions.