As the doors open on the first session of the 114th Congress, Indian country will face significant changes. These changes will bring considerable challenges and opportunities. Champions of Indian country have advanced in leadership in the new Congress, and tribal communities have much to look forward to. There will be opportunities for forging new relationships and educating Congress about the many benefits of Indian gaming.
To help begin the education process in the 114th Congress, I’m proud to report that the National Indian Gaming Association held another successful Winter Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C. in late January. Our legislative summits are particularly important to provide our membership with an opportunity to hear from new members of Congress, new committee leaders and, of course, our proven champions to strategize on how to advance our legislative priorities in the coming year.
Education is a constant in Congress. We will continue to educate through our regular meeting, walking the halls of Congress, attending hearings and many other events in this amazing city. We will welcome our regional and state associations as well as the many regulators and commissioners, professional staff and non-profits working in education, housing and economic development to advocate for the needs of Indian country.
There are 64 new members of Congress in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Some represent Indian country, but the great majority do not. As a result, we took the time to attend the swearing in ceremonies in early January and used time at our Legislative Summit to inform members of the newly minted 114th Congress about the constitutional status of Indian tribes as governments, as well as the federal treaty and trust obligations.
On this same note from the Indian gaming perspective—we are constantly telling our story. Indian gaming, which is grounded in tribal sovereignty, has provided an economic lift to rural communities across this nation. Indian gaming is Indian self-determination. No longer do we simply rely upon the federal government to meet the needs of our people. We now proudly utilize the revenues from our gaming establishments to provide for housing, infrastructure, economic development and greatly needed programs and services for our citizenry. Although there is still a lot to do, in comparison to previous generations we are making strides and providing services and opportunities that our members never dreamed would be possible.
Indian gaming is an exercise of inherent authority affirmed, confirmed and guided by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Our great industry has responsibly grown to provide a steady source of revenue for 245 tribes in 28 states. In 2013 alone, Indian gaming generated $28 billion in direct revenue.
We informed the new members that for many tribes Indian gaming is first and foremost about jobs. In 2013, Indian gaming generated more than 650,000 direct and indirect jobs. Without question, we are putting people to work. Today, Indian gaming is helping maintain, generate and fuel an American economic recovery.
In addition to these ground level education efforts, we are working to build a base that makes new opportunities and meets new challenges that lie ahead in the 114th Congress. We expect that the Internet gaming debate will continue at the federal level in 2015. NIGA will hold fast to the Internet gaming principles that our member tribes united behind, which first and foremost demand respect for Indian tribes as governments as well as respect for existing tribal government rights under IGRA and existing tribal gaming compacts.
We look forward to the release of the Government Accountability Office’s report on the regulation of Indian gaming under IGRA at 25 years. Our industry is the most highly regulated form of gaming in the nation, and we look forward to highlighting the fact that regulation is vital and that tribal leaders and governments understand its importance. In 2013 alone, tribal government invested $422 million on regulation. Our system employs more than 6,500 tribal, federal and state regulators and staff to protect Indian gaming. This system is costly, it’s comprehensive, and our record and experience shows that it is working.
Finally, we will continue to assist the Tribal Leaders Tax Reform Alliance in ensuring consultation occurs between tribes and the Internal Revenue Service and that the newly enacted General Welfare Exclusion Act is properly implemented in a timely fashion. Our thanks go out to the members of Congress who helped get this legislation passed so that tribal general welfare public programs are tax exempt.
As always, Indian country is ready for the opportunities that lie ahead. We will continue to work with all of our friends in Congress, and we will make new friends as well. Together with the tribal leadership, we will work to champion tribal sovereignty and Indian self-determination. We will continue to lead the change that is necessary to strengthen and uphold the standing of tribal nations in the federal tapestry of government.