Babbitt Holds Card on Tribal Casinos States, Tribes Seek End to a Deadlock

Article excerpt

Florida's Seminole Indians, like tribes in seven other states that want to open gambling casinos on reservations, are stuck. Rebuffed recently by the US Supreme Court in their efforts to sue states to allow gambling, the tribes now are turning to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt for an answer.

The spread of casino gambling on native American lands has intensified a debate that is as old as the United States itself: how to resolve conflicts between the federal government, states, and tribes. That question underlies a hearing today of the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, which will examine the impact of the court ruling and the issues facing Mr. Babbitt. In his role as Interior secretary, Babbitt oversees all Indian affairs in the US.

Last month's Supreme Court decision strongly affirmed states' rights, but the ruling did not clarify how to resolve disputes between states and tribes that are at loggerheads over casinos.

"The states have no other place to go, and neither do we," says Rick Hill, president of the National Indian Gaming Association. "But I think Babbitt will probably stall on his decision until after the presidential election." A Babbitt spokesman says the secretary is not expected to decide a format for settling state-tribe conflicts for several months.

At stake for the tribes is the potential for millions of dollars of gambling income; for states, it's their ability to keep a casino-free environment within their borders.

Since 1988, 146 tribes have negotiated gambling compacts with states. Gambling on Indian reservations is now a $6 billion a year industry.

In Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, experts say, the Supreme Court ducked the issue of how to resolve the state-tribe conflict. …