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Congressman tries to block off-reservation gaming

An attempt by a Western Congressman to prohibit the Interior Department from approving off-reservation casinos was defeated on the House floor on Thursday.

In response to an off-reservation gaming proposal in his state, Rep. David Wu (D-Oregon) tried to add a rider to the 2006 Interior appropriations bill. He said he didn't want the Warm Springs Tribes to open a casino near Portland under a compact signed with Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D).

"We should not sacrifice our national treasures, our communities, or our souls upon the altar of Indian casino gambling," said Wu,whose district doesn't include Portland.

But the provision was not limited to Oregon. It would have barred the department from using federal funds to allow any Class III gaming on "non-reservation Indian land" throughout the entire country.

That led Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon), whose district covers the affected area, to speak out against the amendment. He said the off-reservation casino would benefit the tribe, the state and local communities.

"There are 4,400 tribal members who are suffering on the reservation," Walden said on the floor. "They have worked diligently with the communities involved.:

Walden also objected because the rider was not handled by the House Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over Indian affairs and is currently debating off-reservation gaming policy. Rep. Charles Taylor (R-North Carolina), the chairman of the House Interior Appropriations subcommittee, agreed and raised a point of order that Wu was forced to concede.

The entire exchange didn't last long but is indicative of the controversy surrounding off-reservation gaming and gaming in general. Over the past several years, a number of members of Congress have attempted to add riders to the Interior bill to restrict the expansion of the $18.6 billion tribal gaming industry.

Most efforts have not succeeded thanks to the efforts of friendly lawmakers and organizations like the National Indian Gaming Association and the National Congress of American Indians. Both groups oppose the use of riders to change the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

But many advocates fear anti-Indian sentiments will prompt more proposals like the one Wu offered. One lawmaker has already introduced a bill to limit land acquisitions for gaming purposes.

Tribal leaders say these kinds of changes are not warranted. "Indian gaming is not out of control," said Charles D. Enyart, the chief of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, at a hearing on off-reservation gaming last month. Enyart's tribe is eyeing several sites in Ohio for casinos.

Even non-Indian experts say outrage to off-reservation gaming is based more on perception than reality. "Reservation shopping is not a real threat," I. Nelson Rose, a Whittier Law School professor, said at a state governors' conference in March.

Nevertheless, key members of Congress are examining ways to amend the law to address potential problems. The House Resources Committee, headed by Rep. Richard Pombo (R-California), and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee (R-Arizona), have been holding hearings.

"This problem is perception and reality both," McCain said at a hearing on Wednesday. "We can't legislate perception but there might be something we can do to correct some of the realities."

The rider Wu sought read as follows:
�None of the funds in this or any other Act shall be used to permit class III gaming activities under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act on non-reservation Indian land.

If the Warm Springs casino is approved by the federal government, it would be the first in the state located away from an existing reservation. Currently, a total of nine tribes conduct gaming on their lands.

Under the deal, the Warm Springs Tribes would close their existing on-reservation casino and open one in the town of Cascade Locks in the Columbia River Gorge. The tribes would share up to 17 percent in gross revenues at the new casino with the state.

Other tribes say the proposal would hurt on-reservation gaming facilities. They also say the state can't try to stop them from open their own off-reservation casinos.

H.R.2361, the 2006 Interior Appropriations Act, was approved by a voice vote of 329-89. It includes $2.0 billion for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and $3.1 billion for the Indian Health Service. Lawmakers acted to restore several of the Bush administration's cuts to Indian programs.

2006 Interior Appropriations Bill:

Relevant Links:
Warm Springs Tribes -