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Internet Gaming’s Impact on Tribes to be Closely Studied

After hearing the concerns of tribal leaders and Indian gaming experts, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs promised to take a long, hard look at all aspects of Internet gaming before considering legislation to legalize Internet gaming.

Mahalo nui loa (thank you very much) for your testimony. The testimony makes it clear that this is a very complex issue and I feel we’ve just scratched the surface of these issues,” Sen. Daniel Kahikina Akaka (D-Hawaii) told witnesses who testified November 17 at SCIA’s “Oversight Hearing on the Future of Internet Gaming: What's at Stake for Tribes?”

Not a single tribal expert involved in Indian gaming provided unqualified support for legalizing Internet gaming. Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum, chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council, stressed the “bedrock principle” shared by all tribal leaders: the protection of tribal sovereignty and existing tribal government rights. “In addition to these principles, I would venture to say that there is at least one other area in which there would be universal agreement among tribes: Any federal legislation authorizing Internet Gaming must ensure that Indian country can protect and preserve the gains tribal nations have made under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) while at the same time allowing us the opportunity to compete on a fair and level playing field with other gaming interests in any legalized Internet Gaming market” Bozsum said.

Glen Gobin, vice chairman of the Tulalip Tribes, said IGRA has allowed some of Indian country to develop a $26.5 billion gaming industry that not only provide jobs and infrastructure within reservations, but also spill out beyond the reservation. Of the $60 billion generated in the U.S. by both commercial and Indian gaming, Indian gaming dollars make up more than 40 percent, Gobin said. “There is a lot at stake for tribes and local economies where Indian gaming enterprises are located and have been able to thrive and we strongly oppose any proposals to legalize Internet gaming that threaten these economies,” Gobin said.

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Ernie Stevens Jr., the chairman of the Nation Indian Gaming Association, outlined a series of fundamental principles tribal leaders agreed to after several meetings over the past two years in partnership with the National Congress of American Indians. The principles include the acknowledgment that sovereign Indian tribes have the right to operates, license, tax and regulate Internet gaming; that Internet gaming authorized by tribes must be available to customers wherever Internet gaming is allowed; tribal Internet gaming revenues must not be taxed; existing tribal-state compacts must be respected; Internet gaming legislation must not open IGRA to amendments; and it must provide positive benefits to Indian country.

Additional hearings will be held on the subject, Akaka said. “I know there are many other tribes and affected stakeholders that we need to hear from as well. That’s why I intend to convene additional meetings about this issue so my colleagues and I can make sure we’re hearing from all interested parties representing tribal issues in this important matter.”