Bush officials point to success of Indian gaming
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Bush administration officials responsible for oversight of the $12 billion Indian gaming industry on Thursday said they would work to ensure success of tribal casinos through strong regulation.

At a ceremony in Washington, D.C., Secretary of Interior Gale Norton officially swore in the new members of the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC). She promised cooperation between the Department of Interior and the independent regulatory agency.

"In order to ensure the health of Indian gaming and its positive potential within Indian and non-Indian local communities, the department and the commission must work to ensure accountability," she said.

Serving as chairman of the NIGC is Phil Hogen, who was most recently the assistant solicitor for Indian affairs at the Interior until tapped by President Bush for the new position. It's a return engagement for the Oglala Sioux tribal member, who sat on the commission during the Clinton administration.

Joining Hogen are commissioners Chuck Choney, a member of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma, and Nelson Westrin. Choney's background is law enforcement -- he was a special FBI agent -- while Westrin comes to the NIGC from the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

Created by Congress by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, the NIGC's goal is ensuring that tribal casinos are operated legally. It does this through legislation and regulation but also relies on tribal governments to manage their own affairs. Through tribal-state compacts, state governments play a role as well.

"We're not the first line of defense so to speak for the regulation of Indian gaming -- the Indian tribes are," said Hogen. "They're doing a great job but we want to look over their shoulder and ensure that that continues to be the case."

Norton and the commission members specifically noted the positive impacts of Indian gaming. Tribes have used casino revenue to build homes, pay for college education, build hospitals, improve infrastructure and preserver tribal culture, they said.

"A lot of tribes now are able to finance a lot of stuff that they haven't been able to before and we want to see to it that that continues," said Choney.

But they also pointed out that success depends on vigilance and adherence to the law. "The benefits, both social and economic, that come from tribal gaming come only if the public has high confidence in the integrity of gaming activity itself and also in the commitment and the ability of the government and the tribes to enforce the Act," said Westrin.

A hot topic during the ceremony and the reception that followed was a controversial Time magazine report on Indian casinos. Articles published this week paint tribal gaming as a failed government policy that has benefited non-Indians to the detriment of Indian communities.

"As we have seen with the Time magazine articles recently, there are challenges and dangers to viable gaming," Norton said. "Contrary to what you've read in the Time article, there is a lot in Indian Country that's doing well," added Choney.

In an interview after the ceremony, Hogen was equally critical. "I think there are some people out there with an agenda and have not looked at places where they should be looking where Indian gaming is working," he said.

While he acknowledged that a few tribes are making "frightening" amounts of money, he noted: "The vast number of tribes out there are making lesser amounts of money and putting that to good use -- meeting unmet needs employing Indian people -- just exactly what Congress had in mind when they advanced the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act," he added.

With nearly 300 operations in dozens of states, Hogen and his colleagues said they recognized the tough job ahead of them. "We're going to get this thing and we're going to do it right," said Choney.

Relevant Links:
National Indian Gaming Commission -

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