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Senate Committee passes gaming amendments

WASHINGTON - In the rush to prepare legislation for consideration on the Senate floor before the end of the session, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs passed S. 2920, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Improvement Act of 2000.

The bill would require the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) to submit an annual report to Congress, adjust the current fee system, and establish a gaming trust fund.

"We held hearings on the issues contained in this bill throughout the year," said Ben Nighthorse Campbell, committee chairman. "In July the committee heard from tribes and the NIGC."

However, the NIGC has raised a number of concerns with the bill and is opposing its passage. The commission says the current fee structure is working and proposed changes are unnecessary. Montie Deer, NIGA chairman, says that Senate bill is unclear and may require the commission to work under two fee structures.

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"The commission currently establishes an aggregate fee rate that is reasonably related to the costs of services, enforcement and compliance efforts and other required activities," Deer said. "The commission does not and would not, collect or spend fees that are not reasonably related to the cost of carrying out its statutorily required duties under the law."

If passed, the bill would also require the commission to file a "strategic plan" and annual budget with the Office of Management and Budget, a requirement Senate committee members say is necessary to improve accountability to tribes and Congress.

A provision of the bill would also establish a new "Indian Gaming Trust Fund" in the U.S. Treasury. The money would be invested by the government and used to fund commission activities.

"The Department of Treasury questions what appropriations would be deposited in the trust fund," Deer said. "The department recommends excluding appropriations from being invested because an appropriation is simply a limit on the amount of money that a government agency may spend for its authorized purpose and is not a sum that is available for investment."

S. 2920 is expected to reach the Senate floor for final consideration before the end of the session. However, because of opposition from the commission and the administration, observers say the bill would most likely be vetoed by the president.