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NIGC's Hogen to retire; Skibine to be interim chair

WASHINGTON – Phil Hogen, chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission will be stepping down after nine years on the job.

Longtime BIA employee George Skibine, a member of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma, will serve as interim chairman until President Obama appoints a permanent replacement.

“We’re having a retirement reception to honor Chairman Hogen and his 25 years of federal service,” NIGC spokesman Shawn Pensoneau said.

The reception will take place Oct. 2, but Pensoneau could not provide the exact date when Hogen will depart from the commission and Skibine will take over. He said the White House has not yet signed off on the interim position.

The reception will be a huge gathering; a wide range of former staff and other people that Hogen has worked with over the past 25 years will be invited to attend, Pensoneau said.

Hogen is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and plans to return home.

“I think he’s been looking forward to getting back out to the Black Hills. He’s been here a good number of years and I think he’s been looking to do this for some time,” Penonseau said.

Hogen was appointed to a three-year term as NIGC chairman by former President George W. Bush in 2001, and has remained in the position since.

Prior to his NIGC appointment, Hogen was associate solicitor for the Division of Indian Affairs in the Interior Department’s Office of the Solicitor. While there he oversaw legal matters for the BIA. The Division of Indian Affairs includes the Branch of General Indian Legal Activities, the Branch of Tribal Government and Alaska, the Branch of Environment, Lands and Minerals, the Branch of Water and Power, and the Branch of Trust Reform and Litigation.

Hogen earned a law degree at the University of South Dakota and was in private practice with the national firm of Holland & Knight LLP prior to his NIGC appointment. He also served as an associate member and vice chair of NIGC, and was the first director of the Office of American Indian Trust. His federal service also included more than 10 years as U.S. attorney for the District of South Dakota.

Skibine has filled a number of voids in high level management positions, but serves permanently as director of the Office of Indian Gaming Management. In the recent past, he has served as acting deputy assistant secretary for Policy and Economic Development – Indian Affairs and acting principal deputy assistant secretary – Indian Affairs. Most recently, he was assigned some duties with regards to federal recognition determinations.

Skibine is respected within the federal bureaucracy and throughout Indian country.

Over the past few years Hogen has been at the center of controversy in the Indian gaming community. He has been accused of exceeding his authority, not consulting with tribes, and ignoring federal statutes and other mandates. But the chairman came under the most intense fire for proposing a new rule that would have effectively reclassified Class II bingo type machines as Class III slot machines. The proposal would have greatly benefitted states by requiring nations to enter into tribal-state compacts and give a cut of their profits to the states, which they are not required to do while operating Class II gaming machines. The proposal was eventually dropped.

The chairman also provoked the ire of the National Indian Gaming Association, the industry’s nonprofit trade association. Last month, NIGA wrote to Obama, asking him to appoint a new NIGC chairman and put a moratorium on any new regulations until then. The letter followed a unanimous resolution in April by NIGA’s member tribes calling for Hogen’s resignation.

J.R. Matthews, Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma vice chairman and NIGA treasurer, said it was too early to get excited about the news.

“I think George is a great choice as an interim because at the Department of the Interior he was used to doing consultations with tribes and he did a good job. I didn’t necessarily agree with him all the time, but he was thoughtful and provocative and he was able to explain his position. He’s very knowledgeable and he’s a very, very smart guy and he really cares about tribes and what they’re doing.

“I think it’s premature to get too excited. If the White House approves his going over to be the interim, that’s great. I think Phil should move on.”