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Major IGRA amendments advance to Senate floor

The first major amendments to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act since the law was passed in 1988 are ready for the Senate floor.

Last Tuesday, S.2078 was placed on the Senate calendar. Although a vote hasn't been scheduled, the bill is closer than ever to passage despite significant opposition from tribes and tribal gaming organizations who say its provisions will hinder their economic progress.

But Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the sponsor of the measure, says Indian Country is due for some changes. In a report accompanying the bill, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee cites the growth of the industry from the relatively "modest" bingo operations in place back in 1988 to the large-scale casinos seen across the nation.

"At that time, virtually no one contemplated that Indian gaming would become the nearly $20 billion industry that exists today," the report released by McCain, the chairman of the committee, states.

"Indian gaming is providing tribes with much-needed capital for development and employment opportunities where few previously existed," it adds.

The benefits, however, come with concerns that the bill seeks to address. The report describes in detail how the amendments to IGRA will increase regulation of tribal casinos and restrict casino proposals.

In terms of regulation, the bill contains two major changes. First, it authorizes the National Indian Gaming Commission to regulate Class III gaming. Second, it gives the agency more power to review a broad range of gaming and gaming-related contracts.

With respect to casino proposals, the bill eliminates the ability of tribes to acquire land away from existing reservations for casinos. For those tribes without a reservation, the measure makes it harder to obtain land for gaming purposes.

Tribes are worried about the sweeping nature of the amendments. The National Indian Gaming Association, which represents more than 150 tribes, has already come out against most of the bill's provisions.

"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," said retired Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado), the former chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee who now works as a lobbyist for tribes.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, however, the bill won't bring about drastic changes. A May 17 cost analysis said the impact on the NIGC, tribal governments and the private sector would not be "significant," although it acknowledged "further mandates" being imposed on tribes.

S.2078 was introduced by McCain on November 18, 2005. Throughout 2005 and 2006, he held a series of hearings on gaming regulation, off-reservation gaming and related matters.

The committee considered the bill at a business meeting on March 29. At that time, three amendments were considered, including one to require the NIGC to consult with tribes before implementing a policy to review gaming and gaming-related contracts.

Another amendment to require tribes to disclose gaming revenues was also added. The bill requires the Interior Department to develop regulations in consultation with tribes before moving forward.

A third amendment, to impose a deadline for the consideration of tribal gaming when a state refuses to negotiate a compact, was rejected on a party-line vote.

At the business meeting, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), the vice chairman of the committee, announced he would co-sponsor the bill.

Separately, the House Resources Committee is considering its own set of amendments to IGRA. They are limited to land acquisitions and don't go as far as McCain's measure.

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

S.2078 Report:
A bill to amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to clarify the authority of the National Indian Gaming Commission to regulate class III gaming, to limit the lands eligible for gaming, and for other purposes (No.109-261)

National Indian Gaming Association Resolutions:
Section 20 | IGRA Amendments

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