Iowa wants new compacts

DES MOINES, Iowa ? Upcoming gaming compact negotiations between state officials and the Sac and Fox Tribe of Mississippi in Iowa are likely to include talk of requiring contributions from the Meskwaki Casino near Tama, a clause experts say is becoming increasingly common in Indian gaming compacts.

Last month Steven Young, Director of the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, told the Sac and Fox tribe he wants to renegotiate any and all provisions of the compact, set to expire next summer. Young declined identify specific issues he wants to address before meeting with tribal leaders, but denied reports Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, wants to "tax" the state's three American Indian-run casinos.

"People are suggesting the governor is trying to tax them, but he never suggested that," Young said. "What people don't seem to understand is the Tribe, they are a sovereign nation. You respect that sovereignty in many ways, but one of the ways is you don't tax a sovereign. It would be like trying to tax another country."

Vilsack appointed Young director of inspections and appeals earlier this year. Under Iowa law, Young has complete discretion in negotiating the state's American Indian gaming compacts.

Tribal officials also declined to comment on the proposed renegotiation.

The Meskwaki compact is one of three Indian gaming compacts negotiated with the state in 1992 and the first to expire next summer. Compacts with the Omaha Tribe near Onawa and the Winnebago Tribe near Sloan are set to expire in 2006.

None of the current compacts provide for payments to the state in lieu of taxes or in contributions, something University of Iowa Law Professor Robert Odawi Porter says is becoming common in renegotiated compacts.

Initial compacts negotiated under the federal Indian Gaming Act don't have provisions for payments to state governments, but prohibits such payments, Porter said.

But tribes are increasingly using payments to sweeten the deal for states that may be reluctant to allow gaming or its expansion, he said. Nationally, it is becoming a common focus of compact renegotiation.

"That's when the states come back saying they want a cut," he said. "And the tribes ? they're half-pregnant with casinos. They're not going to say no."

Tribal and state officials will have until June 2003 to come to an agreement. The new compact will become effective after approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Young said he will likely request renegotiation of the other tribes' compacts during the approved notification period in 2005.

"The law is so rapidly evolving and the issue is so rapidly evolving I think both parties may want to look into that," he said.

The Meskwaki Casino, opened in 1992, is one of Iowa's largest gaming operations with more than $100 million in estimated annual gross revenues.

Revenues from the country's 290 tribal gaming operations were more than $12.7 billion in 2001 ? a 16 percent increase over the previous year, according to the National Indian Gaming Commission.

Iowa also has 13 licensed non-Indian casinos within the state.