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House to vote on bill to restrict off-reservation gaming

Update Wednesday: The bill is on the schedule for this morning. C-SPAN is streaming the House session online.

A major vote is being called tomorrow on a bill that would restrict the ability of tribes to acquire land for casinos.

Rep. Richard Pombo (R-California) announced on Monday that H.R.4893 will be up for debate. Dubbed the Restricting Indian Gaming to Homelands of Tribes (RIGHT) Act, the measure blocks certain off-reservation casino proposals and tightens the criteria for others.

Pombo, the chairman of the House Resources Committee, said the changes are needed to close a "loophole" in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. He said tries are building casinos in areas not intended when Congress passed the law back in 1988.

"This law has been manipulated to create reservations in areas of economic opportunity instead of providing economic opportunities for tribes on their reservations," he said yesterday.

Pombo is considered an ally to Indian Country but most tribes fighting his proposal. They say it will hurt the $23 billion Indian gaming industry, which has provided revenues, jobs and economic opportunities to reservations and surrounding communities.

Their complaints include the elimination of the two-part determination and land claim provisions of IGRA. In the past 17 years, only four tribes have been able to open casinos away from their reservations under these exceptions in Section 20.

The National Indian Gaming Association also says the bill puts unfair burdens on landless, restored and newly recognized tribes who haven't been able to enjoy the benefits of gaming due to their status. "Before they can use their lands, these tribes would have to jump through many new hoops: the Secretary of the Interior, the State Governor, and local governments must all agree before they can even open a bingo hall," NIGA said.

Finally, tribes object to provisions that subject them to the powers of local governments. Pombo's bill requires tribes to negotiate agreements to pay for the effects of their casinos on communities.

Democrats are likely to tout many of these concerns during the debate tomorrow. Although Pombo cast his measure as bipartisan, several prominent Democrats -- including Reps. Dale Kildee of Michigan, Frank Pallone of New Jersey and Tom Udall of New Mexico -- voted against it during a committee vote.

One Republican, Rep. Rick Renzi of Arizona, also voted no during the July 26 vote. The Navajo Nation, whose reservation he represents, opposes the bill.

With the House controlled by Republicans, the bill is likely to see passage. But chances for Senate passage are extremely slim, given a rival measure sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

A dozen senators have placed holds on McCain's bill. Some of them say it goes too far while others say it doesn't go far enough to clamp down on the spread of casinos.

Pombo's bill would face the same challenges were it to be considered in the Senate. But his bill is limited in scope to land-into-trust issues whereas McCain's bill addresses regulation, funding and other gaming issues.

The National Congress of American Indians and NIGA are backing efforts by the Interior Department to rewrite the land-into-trust rules. The proposal would not make major changes to the way gaming applications are handled at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Since IGRA's passage in 1988, it has never been amended in a significant way. Efforts in recent years have stalled amid competing state, tribal and federal interests.

Pombo IGRA Bill:
H.R.4893 [As Passed by Committee] | H.R.4893 [As Introduced] | MP3: House Resources Committee Debate | Substitute | Explanation

McCain IGRA Bill:
S.2078 | Senate Indian Affairs Committee Report

National Indian Gaming Association Resolutions:
Section 20 | IGRA Amendments

Relevant Links:
National Indian Gaming Commission -
National Indian Gaming Association -