Gov. Bush Leads Revolt against Tribal Casinos Growing Number of States Want to Tax Gambling Revenues. Tribes Say That's an Attack on Sovereignty

By Scott Baldauf, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 25, 1998 | Go to article overview
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Gov. Bush Leads Revolt against Tribal Casinos Growing Number of States Want to Tax Gambling Revenues. Tribes Say That's an Attack on Sovereignty


Scott Baldauf, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


On the southeast side of El Paso, there's a casino that has sprung up among the sagebrush of the Tigua Indian Reservation. Tribe members call it the Speaking Rock. Texas Gov. George W. Bush calls it illegal.

Like a growing number of officials in other states, Governor Bush is using the courts to slow the spread of gambling in his state, if not shut it down altogether. But closing the casino is proving more difficult than might be expected. The tribe claims they are operating within state laws. And the legal wrangling is just beginning.

How the dispute is resolved here and in states from Florida to California will help determine the limits of Indian sovereignty - one of the oldest legal disputes in the United States. It will also impact the livelihoods of thousands of native Americans, as more tribes turn to casino gambling - the most lucrative tribal venture in history - to raise money. "Every state in the country, with the exceptions of Utah and Hawaii, has some form of legal gambling, usually a lottery," says Nelson Rose, a law professor and expert on Indian casinos at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, Calif. "The tribes are simply saying they have the right to do the same thing. But from the point of view of the state, it's untaxed and unregulated gambling." Limits to self-rule? Since 1830, the US Supreme Court has upheld the right of tribes to self-rule, allowing them to regulate everything from fishing, hunting, and mineral rights to the setting up of gambling casinos. But in 1988, these broad rights were tempered, as Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The controversial new law allows states and tribes to sign compacts on what kind of gambling can take place on reservations. This more direct relationship has sometimes brought peaceful resolutions, and other times brought state and tribal rivalries to a head. But nationwide, it has unleashed the biggest expansion of casino gambling in US history. Casinos' windfall The economic impact of this boom has been uneven. Eight of the 184 tribal casinos in the country generate 40 percent of all Indian gambling revenues, and these casinos tend to draw from urban areas. For every Mashantucket Pequot tribe that operates a successful casino near an urban area (in Connecticut), there are dozens of more impoverished rural tribes that have either rejected gambling or have been unable to cash in on it. In Idaho, the Coeur d'Alene tribe has staked a claim in cyberspace, offering a lottery game over the Internet. Idaho officials say the tribe's activities are abiding by state laws, but officials in other states, including Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona, are urging Congress to pass laws to make this and other forms of Internet gambling illegal.

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