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NIGA supports gaming rules but opposes McCain bill

The nation's largest tribal casino organization put its weight behind the Bush administration's new gaming regulations in a bid to oppose Congressional efforts to clamp down on the $20 billion industry.

Meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, last week, the National Indian Gaming Association passed two resolutions on the matter. The first backs the Section 20 proposal that would establish standards for the acquisition of land for casinos.

"NIGA supports the promulgation of regulations by the Department of Interior, working directly with tribal governments," the resolution states.

The second opposes S.2078, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act Amendments. In the resolution, NIGA says the bill that was approved by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on March 29 "infringes on Indian sovereignty and tribal self-government, unnecessarily burdens economic development and lawful business transactions, and creates new bureaucratic roadblocks and mandatory agency reviews" that will harm the industry.

NIGA's stance drew an endorsement from retired Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado), the former chairman of the committee who now works as a lobbyist in Washington. "We are concerned that the Senate bill creates too much new federal bureaucracy and we believe that the issue of off reservation gaming can be dealt with through regulation," he said last week.

The Section 20 regulations aim, for the first time, to clarify how lands are taken into trust for gaming. They would establish standards for off-reservation casinos and other types of casino development in Indian Country.

In contrast, S.2078, sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the current chairman of the committee, goes further by outright eliminating certain types of off-reservation casinos. Newly recognized and restored tribes who want to engage in gaming on land is currently not part of a reservation would face harsher limits.

Tribal leaders and attorneys say the Section 20 draft that was issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs is not perfect. At a consultation session that took place in Albuquerque on Wednesday, they criticized several parts of the proposal as placing too many burdens on tribes.

But they feel they have more power to influence the BIA's rulemaking process. At the session, George Skibine, the official spearheading the Section 20 regulations, agreed with many of the concerns raised and said he would take other suggestions into account.

"We hope to get a lot of information on this draft document," said Skibine, the director of the BIA's Office of Indian Gaming Management.

The Congressional process, on the other hand, poses a tougher battle. With gaming, and tribal affairs in general, under a cloud due to the Jack Abramoff scandal, Indian advocates in the nation's capitol fear a free for all could spell disaster.

McCain, however, insists change need to be made to the industry. In addition to curbing off-reservation gaming, his bill beefs up the powers of the National Indian Gaming Commission to regulate and oversee tribal casinos and tribal casino deals.

Committee aides who were in Albuquerque last week didn't know when the bill would head to the floor. "We'll continue to encourage active review, especially by the tribes, of the bill as it is pending," John Tahsuda, the deputy staff director for the Republicans, said during Wednesday's session

"I don't necessarily know what the chances [of passage] exactly are but there's going to be an effort to move the bill," said Allison Binney, the general counsel for the Democrats, on Thursday during the Federal Bar Association's annual Indian law conference that took place in Albuquerque.

Since the passage of IGRA in 1988, there have been no significant amendments to the law. Conflicting federal, tribal and state interests have prevented legislation from moving forward.

NIGA Resolutions:
Section 20 | IGRA Amendments

Draft BIA Regulations:
Gaming on Lands Acquired After October 17, 1998

Relevant Documents:
Kevin Gover Testimony | Aurene Martin Testimony | Title 25 CFR Part 151 Land-into-Trust Process | Section 20 of IGRA | GAO Report

Pombo IGRA Bill:
To amend section 20 of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to restrict off-reservation gaming (H.R.4893)

McCain IGRA Bill:
Indian Gaming Regulatory Act Amendments of 2005 (S.2078)

Relevant Links:
Senate Indian Affairs Committee -
NIGC Indian Land Determinations -
National Indian Gaming Association -