Commentary: Scandal sheds light on tribal gaming

"Tribal gambling may be the least transparent large industry in the United States. Constitutional protections reach only feebly onto Indian land, where tribal governments enjoy a degree of secrecy that would never be tolerated in any other American community. Gigantic sums disappear from public view as soon as they leave tribal gaming tables. This money is shielded from outside regulation by the principle of tribal sovereignty, upheld by the Supreme Court, which regards tribes as autonomous "nations," enjoying self-regulation, immunity from lawsuits and independence from state laws. In practical terms, the casinos are also spared scrutiny by investigative journalism and citizen watchdog groups, which are almost completely absent from Indian reservations. Although some tribes have agreed with state governments to allow oversight of their casinos, the difficulty of penetrating the iron curtain that surrounds the disposition of casino earnings on many reservations offers an open invitation to money launderers of all varieties.

When the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act became law in 1988, no one imagined that it would become a Trojan Horse that would deliver Las Vegas-style casino gambling into communities across America. Having saturated local markets, many tribes are now seeking to acquire land near other, sometimes-distant, population centers, and converting it to "sovereign" territory, in an effort to shoehorn casinos into areas where they're often not wanted by local populations. Once land becomes part of a reservation, it typically becomes exempt from local taxes, state labor laws, municipal ordinances, zoning restrictions and environmental review. In one of the most egregious cases, in 2004, the Cheyenne-Arapahoe Tribes of Oklahoma filed a 27 million acre land claim which included all of Denver and Colorado Springs, but offered to drop it in exchange for the approval of a Las Vegas-style casino near Denver Airport."

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Fergus M. Bordewich : The Least Transparent Industry in America (The Wall Street Journal 1/5)
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