WASHINGTON - The National Indian Gaming Commission issued proposed regulations tribes say go beyond the authority of the federal government to regulate tribal gaming.
These regulations would require Indian tribes to comply with environmental, health, and safety regulations outside tribal ordinances. They were developed after the commission raised concerns about standards being inconsistently applied throughout Indian country.
"Some tribes had strong policies in place and other tribes did not," said Teri Poust, associate commissioner. "Some also had good programs on paper, but they were not implemented properly."
Tribes and organizations like the National Indian Gaming Association claim the proposed regulations exceed the authority granted to the commission under the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Under the law, the commission was established as an independent federal regulatory agency. It was created to regulate gaming activities on tribal lands, to shield Indian tribes from organized crime and other "corrupting influences," ensure that tribes are the primary beneficiaries of gaming revenues and assure gaming is conducted "fairly and honestly."
Tribes say the push to draft regulations for non-gaming issues like environmental, health, and safety standards are beyond the scope and intent of the act. Tribes had already expressed concern over the commission's authority to issue Minimum Control Standards. Now they question how far the commission intends to reach into non-gaming issues and how far it will extend itself into the tribal decision-making process.
"The tribes believe these are issues for tribal ordinances and not federal regulations," said Mark Van Norman, executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association. "The tribes see a difference between tribal law and this broad ranging environmental regulation."
Poust says the regulations were drafted because the commission saw some problems - blocked exists, inadequate water supplies and even toxic gases. She added that without standards in place, an antagonistic commission in the future could do a lot of harm to Indian country.
Van Norman says that when the commission talks about access to buildings and blocked exits, they are talking about a problem which can be solved without federal regulations. He says that if the commission sees something like a blocked fire lane, it should ask that the obstacle be moved, not impose a series of federal regulations.
This renewed conflict over the commission's authority may further strain an already fragile relationship. Although the commission is moving forward with a number of initiatives, basic concerns regarding poor communication and consultation dog officials.
The debate over the intent of federal gaming law is sure to test both sides, but tribes appear vehement in their opposition to broadening the scope of the gaming act.
"The tribes feel that there was a bargain struck under IGRA when they were asked to enter into compacts with the states," Van Norman said. "The federal agency charged with regulation should follow statutory mandates and should not go beyond that and infringe upon tribal sovereignty."