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Regulations implementing IGRA;s Section 20 signed

WASHINGTON - Long-awaited regulations that would implement Section 20 of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act have cleared the interagency commentary process and received final signatures. They will appear soon in the Federal Register, according to Paula Hart, of the Interior Department;s Office of Indian Gaming.

BIA spokesman Nedra Darling said the bureau was hoping the regulations would be finalized by May 23 -the effective resignation date of Interior's outgoing assistant secretary for Indian affairs, Carl Artman. Artman has given no reason for his recent unexpected resignation.

The BIA is part of Interior, which has ultimate administrative authority over many Indian gaming decisions under IGRA.

Section 20 of the IGRA sets forth exceptions to its general ban on tribal gaming operations on land acquired in trust after IGRA's enactment on Oct. 17, 1988. Section 20 does nothing in itself to authorize taking tribal land into trust status, Interior officials have testified before Congress. Rather, the secretary of Interior must consider the Section 20 exceptions with regard to any tribal land that would be taken into trust for gaming purposes. The purpose of the regulations is to establish the criteria for Interior's consideration of whether ''after-acquired'' tribal land qualifies for gaming purposes under the Section 20 exceptions.

The most controversial of the Section 20 exceptions - variously counted at five, six or seven, depending on how different federal agencies treat several subcategories - is the so-called ''two-part determination,'' which actually has three parts. Before gaming can occur on the tribal trust lands in question, the secretary of Interior must consult about the land in question with state and local, including tribal, officials; the secretary must determine that gaming would be in the best interest of tribes and tribal citizens, as well as nondetrimental to nearby communities; and the governor of the state in question must concur with the secretarial decision.

Only three times under IGRA has the so-called ''two-part determination'' been executed in each of its provisions, but it became a lightning rod for opponents of off-reservation gaming during the 109th Congress of 2005 and 2006, when Republicans there mounted a determined campaign to modify IGRA. Tribal opposition turned them back.

Afterward, in October 2006, according to National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr., Interior assumed the priority from Congress for refining Section 20.