Indian Gambling Officials Urge Regulation by Compacts
Indian gambling officials on Thursday told a House panel that tribal casino regulations should be controlled by agreements between tribes and states, not the federal government. Last month, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee passed a bill by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that would authorize a federal agency -- the National Indian Gaming Commission -- to regulate tribal casinos. Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., chairman of the House Resources Committee, is working on his own Indian gaming bill but has not decided whether to expand federal regulation. McCain's bill would override a federal judge's ruling in August 2005, saying the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 does not empower the National Indian Gaming Commission to regulate tribal casinos.
Phil Hogen, chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission, said the 1988 law needs to be clarified so the commission can do its job.
"We are finding the door slammed in our face," Hogen told the House Resources Committee. "We sent two of our investigators ... out to Western Montana this week and when they got there, they were denied access (to an Indian casino), and the tribe pointed to the ruling ... to keep us out."
But Franklin Ducheneaux, a member of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association and a former counsel to the late Rep. Morris Udall, D-Ariz., who helped craft the 1988 law, said Congress did not intend to authorize federal regulation of tribal casinos.
The law limited federal regulation to bingo and other tribal operations less sophisticated than casinos to preserve tribal sovereignty, Ducheneaux said.
When the National Indian Gaming Commission began imposing minimum auditing and internal control standards on tribal casinos in 1999, Indian gaming officials argued this was a violation of the 1988 law.
The friction led to last year's ruling in favor of the Colorado River Indian Tribes of Arizona which challenged the National Indian Gaming Commission's minimum internal control standards for its casino.
"If Congress believes it is necessary for the (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) to address the (minimum internal control standards), it should do so in a way that is deferential to the regulatory scheme negotiated between tribes and states in their compacts,' said Raymond Aspa, a member of the tribal council of the Colorado Indian River Tribes.
Ernie Stevens Jr., chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, said tribes spent $320 million last year on regulation and employ more than 2,800 regulators.
Norman DesRosiers, a commissioner for the Viejas Tribal Gaming Commission in Alpine, Calif., said tribes that comply with minimum internal control standards for three years should be eligible for a certificate of "self-regulation."
Kevin Washburn, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, said state regulation of Indian gambling has been "spotty," and the industry has become so important to tribes that it must be protected.
"That's largely why I think the federal government should have this (regulatory) role," Washburn said.