Skip to main content

Let the games begin; D.C. lobbyists work both sides of the street

Michigan's 'goofy toll booth idea'

For those misguided individuals who continue to insist that Indian gaming
is a bastion of corruption, "Let the Games Begin" offers the following
disgraceful story of how at least one Indian tribe got taken to the
cleaners by corrupt lobbyists.

On Sept. 26, the Washington Post reported that Jack Abramoff and Michael
Scanlon, a lobbyist and PR consultant respectively, worked both sides the
street in February 2002. According to the Post, the pair paid Ralph Reed,
described as a "conservative religious activist," some $4 million to create
the public furor over the legality of Indian gaming in Texas.

The result was Texas Attorney General John Cornyn's closing of the Speaking
Rock Casino, owned by the Tigua Tribe of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, in El
Paso on Feb. 11, 2002. A direct consequence of the closure was that some
700 people, of whom only 50 were tribal members, lost their jobs.

Not two weeks later, the pair went to the Tiguas, offering to persuade
Congress to allow the tribe to reopen its Speaking Rock Casino, which had
produced revenues for the tribal government in the neighborhood of $60
million annually. The Tiguas paid the two alleged shysters, Abramoff and
Scanlon, $4.2 million to, in the Post's words, "rectify the gross indignity
perpetuated by the Texas State authorities" in shutting down Speaking Rock.
The pair also demanded $300,000 in political contributions, presumably to
Republican lawmakers.

An investigation by Post reporters revealed that the pair collected at
least $50 million in PR fees from various gaming tribes; they also paid
Reed to organize opposition to Indian gaming. The Post said that Abramoff
and Scanlon "represented tribes in Mississippi and Louisiana that sought to
block other tribes from operating rival casinos in Texas, Louisiana and
Alabama that could draw away gamblers." Cornyn, a Republican, is now a U.S.
Senator representing Texas. Reed, also a Republican, is currently a
regional chairman working on President Bush's campaign for re-election. The
Post described Abramoff as a "powerhouse Republican lobbyist."

In an e-mail to Reed obtained by the Post, an arrogant Abramoff crowed, "I
wish those moronic Tiguas were smarter in their political contributions.
I'd love us to get our mitts on that moolah!! Oh well, stupid folks get
wiped out."

Abramoff and Scanlon are reportedly under investigation by the FBI and the
Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Observers of Indian gaming nationwide
ought to be outraged by the actions of these jokers. Sure, everyone is
"innocent until proven guilty" under the U.S. Constitution; if however,
these arrogant two-faced shysters are found guilty of fraud, improper
campaign contributions or anything else, they deserve the most severe
punishment possible.


The greedy hands of state politicians continue to grab at Indian gaming
revenue. This time, the culprits are Michigan legislators who are proposing
to allow local governments adjacent to Indian reservations to collect a $5
toll from people entering the reservation to patronize a casino. According
to the Leelanau Enterprise, said legislators are also "considering a
resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to impose a hefty federal tax on
Indian casinos nationwide."

Gaming tribes in Michigan pay the state 8 percent of their slot machines'
net win, and pay an additional 2 percent to neighboring municipal
governments under compacts signed in 1993.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

The Enterprise quoted officials from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and
Chippewa Indians as saying the "goofy toll both idea" comes in retaliation
for a proposal from Michigan's gaming tribes advocating a state
constitutional amendment requiring voter approval of any new gambling in
the state. This proposal, known as "Proposition 1", will appear on
Michigan's Nov. 2 ballot. It is reportedly meant to counter other state
legislation aiming to allow slots and gaming at horse track "racinos" and
would not apply to existing Indian casinos nor the three non-Indian ones in

The proposal reads as follows:

A proposal to amend the state constitution to require voter approval of any
form of gambling authorized by law and certain new state lottery games.

The proposed constitutional amendment would:

Require voter approval of any form of gambling authorized by law after
January 2004.

Require voter approval of any new state lottery games utilizing "table
games" or "player operated mechanical or electronic devices" introduced
after Jan. 1, 2004.

Provide that when voter approval is required, both statewide voter approval
and voter approval in the city or township where gambling will take place
must be obtained.

Specify that the voter approval requirement does not apply to Indian tribal
gaming or gambling in up to three Detroit casinos.

Voters have the option of voting "yes" or "no" on the measure.


We've said it here before and we'll likely say it many more times in the
coming months and years, but it bears repeating: state governors and
legislators, as well as local political officials around the country need
to carefully read the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Here, yet again, is an
Internet link to the 1988 legislation:

State and local officials would be wise to read and make a serious effort
to understand this federal legislation, enacted for the benefit of tribal
governments, not state, county, city or town governments.