NIGC completes team with tribal gaming regulator

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne administers the oath of office to Norman DesRosiers while National Indian Gaming Commissioner Chairman Phil Hogen looks on. March 15, 2007. Photo © NSM.
The National Indian Gaming Commission completed its team on Thursday with the addition of a longtime tribal casino regulator to the roster.

At a ceremony in Washington, D.C., Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne swore in Norm DesRosiers as an associate vice commissioner. The move completes the makeup of the NIGC, which had gone without a third member for more than a year.

But the wait was worth it, Kempthorne told a small audience of tribal leaders, Washington lawyers and NIGC staff. He said he was proud to induct "somebody of Norm's caliber, who comes to us with 15 years of pragmatic experience in tribal gaming."

Phil Hogen, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota who serves as chairman of the NIGC, agreed. He said DesRosiers, who has worked for the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians in California and the San Carlos Apache Tribe of Arizona, brings a "wealth of experience at the tribal level."

"That insight probably has been a little lacking on our end," said Hogen, a former U.S. Attorney from South Dakota. "We are so glad to have a full team," added Hogen, who has been at the NIGC since December 2002.

Chuck Choney, a member of the Comanche Nation who serves as vice chair of the NIGC, said federal regulators have gotten to know their new colleague very well over the years. DesRosiers has been a frequent witness on Capitol Hill on crucial matters affecting the $23 billion tribal casino industry.

"For him to be a member of the commission is a definite asset," said Choney, a former FBI agent. Choney said DesRosiers is respected among tribal and Indian gaming leaders.

DesRosiers admitted he was lured away from a high-profile and comfortable job in southern California. But as a decorated Vietnam veteran, he said he jumped at the chance to serve two countries -- the United States and Indian Country.

"Undoubtedly, for me personally and professionally, this is the highlight of my life," said DesRosiers, whose appointment fulfills a provision of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that at least one member of the NIGC be a non-Indian.

With DesRosiers on board, the agency has a lot of issues on its plate. One involves the NIGC's authority to regulate Class III gaming such as slot machines and table games.

Hogen has asked Congress to increase NIGC's powers in light of a court case that said IGRA left Class III gaming to tribes and states through the compacting process. In testimony to Congress, DesRosiers supported the tribal role in regulation.

"It's us that that call in the Department of Justice," he testified in April 2005. It's us that call in to find the improprieties, to find the thefts, embezzlement, the scams, the cheats."

At the hearing, DesRosiers said he had "no objection" to state or federal officials coming in to check on tribal casinos. But he urged Congress to move with caution on any legislation that amends IGRA, which was passed in 1988.

On another hot issue, DesRosiers spoke out against the NIGC's proposal to redefine Class II games such as bingo and pull tabs. Earlier this year, Hogen withdraw the rules amid widespread tribal opposition.

At a different hearing, DesRosiers said NIGC's proposal would only lead to "whole lot more opportunities for litigation." The agency is planning to take a new approach to the rules, Hogen has said.

In his comments yesterday, Kempthorne praised Indian Country for expanding opportunities through gaming. He commended tribes "for the benefits that your tribal members receive [and] that others in your surrounding communities receive."

Kempthorne didn't talk about off-reservation gaming, which he opposed as governor of Idaho. Although those decisions mainly rest with the BIA, the NIGC plays a role in determining the legality of casino sites, and was recently rebuked by a federal court for failing to do so with respect to an off-reservation casino in New York.

Relevant Links:
National Indian Gaming Commission - http://www.nigc.gov
National Indian Gaming Association - http://www.indiangaming.org

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