DENVER - The Western Governors Association summit on Indian gaming at the
end of March drew only two governors, organizer Bill Owens of Colorado and
Mike Rounds of South Dakota, one of the most Indian-populous states in the
nation. Eight other governors sent representatives, who heard an expert on
Indian gaming say there is "zero" chance Congress will overhaul the Indian
Gaming Regulatory Act in response to off-reservation gaming.
The assessment came from I. Nelson Rose, a professor at Whittier Law School
in California who monitors legal developments in gaming. That state is one
of several in which off-reservation gaming has become a bone of contention
between would-be gaming tribes, the developers who back them, state
lawmakers and local communities.
United Press International quoted Rose as saying IGRA is one of Congress's
most successful acts in assisting tribes with economic development.
Off-reservation gaming, by contrast, has gotten a great deal of attention
as activities have gone forward to establish tribal casinos on lands far
removed from reservation borders, either through "reservation shopping" or
the federal legislative process.
Successes have been few and far between, and the barriers raised against it
in IGRA and the Code of Federal Regulations - especially where local
disapproval runs strong - "are a powerful detriment to abuse," according to
the National Indian Gaming Association's recent testimony before Congress.
UPI further reported that in separate remarks at the WGA summit, Rose
seemed to concur: "Rose ... said that the reality was that there were
simply too many legal obstacles for a tribe to overcome in forcing a casino
into a community where they were being welcomed with anything less than
"Mounting a successful legal challenge to push through a casino proposal,
Rose said, simply requires too much time and money to make it worth
"'If you put up [legal] barriers, it almost certainly isn't going to
happen, and it certainly isn't going to happen cheap,' he said.
"For that reason alone, Rose opined that the threat of reservation shopping
was 'oversold' by worried officials, ardent opponents of gambling and the
established gaming tribes concerned about their markets' being under cut.
"'You begin to realize ... that the threat of reservation shopping isn't as
great in the real world as people would have you think.'"
Still, Owens insisted that Congress must amend IGRA to protect states from
legislation that would establish tax-free tribal casinos within their
borders. Colorado is currently the target of one such ongoing and so far
unsuccessful effort. The Southern Arapaho and Cheyenne, removed from
Colorado to Oklahoma in the 19th century following the massacre at Sand
Creek, hope to trade a settlement of their claim to historical lands in
Colorado for a casino near Denver International Airport, according to the
Rocky Mountain News.
At the summit, Owens reiterated his view that the state Constitution
requires a vote of the people on gaming propositions. The Southern and Ute
Mountain Utes already operate casinos on their reservations in the state.
The Resources Committee in the House of Representatives and the Senate
Committee on Indian Affairs have both held hearings on off-reservation
gaming. Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., House Resources chairman, has offered
a "discussion draft" of a bill that would limit tribes to in-state casinos,
often in out-of-the-way regions that would then qualify as economic
Many tribes oppose "reservation shopping." Keller George, a member of the
Oneida Indian Nation of New York who represented United South and Eastern
Tribes at the summit, criticized gaming management groups that bankroll
most "reservation shopping" initiatives because they typically exact a
large percentage of casino-generated revenues.
"The bottom line for them is the dollar," he told UPI. "But for the tribes,
the bottom line is to advance the economies on the reservations." IGRA has
been successful in the latter sense, he added.
But in addition to those gaming management groups, states too have become
fixated on the bottom-line-dollar figures for Indian gaming.
At least some of the statehouse distress over off-reservation gaming has to
do with the prospect of revenue streams lost to states from tax-free tribal
profits. The New York Times on March 31 reported that five states rely on
gaming for "more than 10 percent of overall revenues," with another five
states "fast approaching" that figure. Five of those 10 states derive a
substantial revenue stream from Indian gaming.
South Dakota is one of them; Rounds, reviving a theme of South Dakota
politics that has been constant since the 1988 passage of IGRA, fretted at
the summit that tribal casinos compete with state-initiated gaming in
Owens emphasized the sheer growth of Indian gaming from a handful of bingo
parlors to an almost $20 billion a year industry, with tribes operating 230
casinos in 28 states. With growth of that magnitude has come the need for
new limits, he said.
Tribal leaders and organizations gave the summit good marks for inviting