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New regime at NIGC: Hogen's hearing set for Sept. 25

After a brief period when it looked as though Indian gaming's federal regulatory agency might be losing its teeth due to attrition, the National Indian Gaming Commission could soon have a new lineup and a new outlook. In the most recent personnel move affecting the Commission, Interior Secretary Gale Norton on Sept. 4 named Cloyce V. Choney and Nelson W. Westrin as her nominations for associate commissioners.

"Both of these candidates are superbly qualified to serve on the commission," said Norton in a recent press release. "Their professional background and broad range of experience will be a tremendous asset in addressing Indian gaming issues."

Indeed, both nominees appear to bring considerable experience to the table in both law enforcement and gaming regulation. This background can do nothing but help the NIGC, whose mission gets bigger and more difficult as Indian gaming continues to grow.

Westrin is the first executive director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board, a position he has held since 1996. Prior to which he served as state Racing Commissioner, which came after several years in the lottery and racing division of the state attorney general's office. Michigan has over a dozen native-owned gaming operations throughout the state, so Westrin has first-hand knowledge of working with tribes.

Choney, Comanche, is currently CEO for Indian Territory Investigations, a firm performing background checks of applicants for jobs in Indian gaming country. Previously, he served for 26 years with the FBI, during which time he served on the bureau's advisory committee for Native Americans and Alaska Natives and won several commendations. Choney also served for two years as president of the National Native American Law Enforcement Association.

The pair's appointments take effect after a 30-day public comment period and the completion of an FBI background check. Delays in completing such checks could set back Choney's and Westrin's assumption of their offices.

President Bush on Sept. 3 nominated Philip N. Hogen, Oglala Lakota, to chair the commission, replacing former Chairman Montie R. Deer, Muscogee Creek, who stepped down on Sept. 5. Unlike Westrin and Choney, Hogen faces Senate confirmation before he can take the chairman's seat.

Hogen's hearing before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee is scheduled for Sept. 25, Patricia Zell, the committee's Majority Staff Director and Chief Counsel, told Indian Country Today.

As previously reported [see the Sept. 11, 2002 issue of Indian Country Today], Hogen has direct experience in federal gaming regulation, having served on the NIGC as an associate commissioner from December 1995 to June 1999. He currently serves as Interior's Associate Solicitor for Indian Affairs, where he reviews legal issues regarding the government-to-government relationship between Interior, BIA and the tribes, as well as the federal government's handling of its trust responsibilities to tribes and individual Indians. His private legal practice in Rapid City, S.D. specialized in Indian and gaming law; Hogen has also served as a U.S. and state attorney in his home state of South Dakota.

With strong experience as a regulator and a clear understanding of government-to-government relations, Hogen, like the two nominees for the associate seats, brings outstanding qualifications and experience to the chairmanship.

As the NIGC's return to full-strength appears to be on-track, we applaud the President's and Secretary's nominees and wish them well in their regulatory endeavors.

The commission has been short-handed since Elizabeth L. Homer's term expired last July. Homer chose not to hold over and resigned, leaving former Chairman Deer and Teresa E. Poust to comprise two-thirds of the full Commission, just enough for a quorum.

In late August, however, Deer announced that he would resign on Sept. 5, effectively crippling the Commission. Thus while help is on the way, with only one current active member, Poust, the Commission's hands are temporarily tied in terms of being able to exert its authority and carry on business without a quorum.

Created by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, NIGC is comprised of a chairman and two associate members who serve three-year terms. The President appoints the chairman, who is then subject to Senate confirmation; the Interior Secretary appoints the two associates, who are not subject to Senate approval. The commission's mission is to ensure the integrity of Indian gaming throughout the U.S. by working with tribal and state regulators and other state and federal agencies. Its responsibilities include: reviewing all gaming management contracts between tribes and non-tribal entities; conducting background investigations on management company officials and principal investors; reviewing tribal gaming ordinances; auditing the books of gaming operations; and initiating enforcement actions when necessary to ensure Indian gaming's integrity.