Native Americans Closely Watch Moves to Regulate Casino Gambling
David Holmstrom, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
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 Americans gamble.
"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 fairly played."
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 bureaucrat. …