IN the legal thicket where the rights of Indians are entangled
with states rights and the laws of the federal government, the most
pressing question has become: How should the phenomenally
successful native-American gambling industry be regulated?
Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) in 1988.
But disputes between tribes and states over interpretations of the
regulations arose almost immediately. A number of issues are still
unresolved in several states.
The United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has
proposed legislation to clarify and tighten Indian gambling
regulations for three reasons: To protect the honesty and integrity
of Indian gaming, to resolve wrangling over the kinds of gaming
allowed by states, and to address the issue of states using the
10th and 11th amendments to the US Constitution to avoid
negotiating gambling compacts with tribes.
Some 120 tribes in the US offer various kinds of gambling today,
with many reservations operating high stakes, casino-style
gambling. This week, the governor of Massachusetts signed an
agreement with the Wampanoag tribe to build a casino, but the pact
is subject to legislative approval. The net revenue from all US
reservations, an estimated $750 million last year out of more than
$5 billion wagered, has become the largest source of economic
activity for Indians. It continues to grow as more and more
"The proposed regulation is mainly an ounce of prevention,"
says Eric Eberhard, minority counsel for the Senate Committee on
Indian Affairs. "There is not any substantial or significant
organized or unorganized criminal activity in Indian gaming today,
but there is interest in setting minimum standards to ensure that
funds continue to be adequately accounted for and the games are
Many tribes that were locked in poverty for a century or more
are now prosperous, with huge profits from casinos and bingo halls.
In addition to Congress, some states are concerned that criminal
elements, attracted by the profits, could gain access to the money.
Most tribes are not opposed to the idea of federal standards.
Some resist the possible expanded role of the current Indian Gaming
Commission, created by Congress, as more encroachment on Indian
sovereignty. The tribes ask: Will it be another oppressive
regulatory bureaucracy? They also insist that tribes should have a
greater voice in creating any standards.
Marge Anderson, chairwoman of the Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa in
Minnesota, which has two tribal casinos open 24 hours a day, told
the Senate committee in a statement that her tribe would resist
turning "regulation of our casinos over to some distant