Gaming act changes sink under Senate holds

WASHINGTON – A cluster of holds on a Senate bill to amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act has forced its sponsor to acknowledge that the time for overcoming them grows short in an election year.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. and chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, brought Senate Bill 2078 forward over the widespread objections of tribes. S. 2078 would consolidate the “mission creep” of the National Indian Gaming Commission, authorizing it to regulate tribal casino contracts, internal control standards, Class III gaming, licensing and other matters that are now at tribal discretion. McCain and NIGC Chairman Phil Hogen, among others, have argued that stronger regulation than provided by the 1988 IGRA enactment is fully warranted for the now multi-billion-dollar Native gaming industry.

Tribes have argued either against new regulation as a punitive impingement on sovereignty, or against a clause that would permit the many off-reservation gaming applications that are now on the books to go forward.

In placing holds on the bill, senators have taken up those objections and added others. Any senator can place a hold anonymously on any bill, so the precise number of holds on S. 2078 is uncertain. But the July 20 Roll Call newspaper (which quoted McCain on the dwindling work days of the legislative calendar) identified a half-dozen lawmakers, Democratic and Republican, with holds on the bill. They include Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee (he opposes the regulatory overreach); Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. (she is pushing an amendment authorizing a casino project of the Lytton Band of Pomo); Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. (too sweeping in its language); Mark Dayton, D-Minn. (over-regulating); John Ensign, R-Nev. (against the grandfathering-in of reservation-shopping tribes); and David Vitter, D-La. (he wants the bill to shut down a proposed new in-state casino site).

Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, confirmed that multiple holds have been placed on the bill. She declined to speculate on what they do for the bill’s chances of becoming law. “But yes, there has been a kind of dragging down.”