The debate over Internet gaming will continue through the 133th Congress, and the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) will remain vigilant on the issue to ensure that Indian country has a voice in the discussion. When Indian country stands united, our voice cannot be ignored.
During the last eight years there have been numerous attempts in Congress to first prohibit and then legalize gambling online. Many of these bills have included provisions that were harmful to Indian country or failed to recognize our unique place within the federal system.
The strength of our position on Internet gaming continues to be our unity on the issue. The debate on Internet gaming is of great importance to all tribal governments. Indian tribes in 26 states from across a wide section of Indian country use gaming revenues to rebuild community infrastructure, educate Native children, improve health care for our elders, enhance public safety and much more. The revenues provided by gaming are essential to the ability of tribal governments to care for their citizens.
Major players in the Internet gaming debate are now realizing the depth and experience that tribal gaming brings to the table. Indian gaming has created 628,000 jobs for Indians and local communities, and our industry comprises 44 percent of all gaming in the United States. Indian gaming alone is responsible for more than $29 billion in U.S. wages annually. Indian gaming revenues have also saved thousands of American jobs outside of Indian country, preventing layoffs of teachers, health-care workers, firefighters, police officers and many other local government employees who provide essential services to children, elders and others in the community.
On Jan. 1 of this year, a national group backed by a commercial gaming company officially began its work. The Coalition To Stop Internet Gambling backed by Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson employs many nationally known politicians. In California, tribes continue to push for Internet gaming within the state, and they hope to join New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware as among the jurisdictions that legalized Internet gaming. On the federal level, there is an Internet poker bill in the House of Representatives, but there is very little appetite among congressional leaders to consider such a measure this year.
Since 2001, NIGA has been actively engaged in the Internet gaming discussion. As the debate over Internet gaming intensifies, the NIGA Executive Committee’s Internet gaming and economic development subcommittee continues to do its work in Indian Country. To date, this subcommittee has met more than a dozen times, and its work resulted in the unanimous position adopted by our 184 member tribes in August 2011 that still stands the test of the Internet gaming debate.
NIGA’s Internet gaming principles are more than policy recommendations. They are directives from our tribal leadership. As chairman, I have always made it clear that NIGA will not waver from our mission, which is to protect tribal sovereignty and the rights of all tribes to shape their economic future. Our principles do just that: 1) Indian tribes are sovereign governments with a right to operate, regulate, tax and license Internet gaming, and those rights must not be subordinated to any non-federal authority; 2) Internet gaming authorized by Indian tribes must be available to customers in any locale where Internet gaming is not criminally prohibited; 3) Consistent with long-held federal law and policy, tribal revenues must not be subject to tax; 4) Existing tribal government rights under tribal-state compacts and IGRA must be respected; 5) The legislation must not open the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act for amendments; 6) Federal legalization of Internet gaming must provide positive economic benefits for Indian country; and 7) Indian tribes possess the inherent right to opt in to a federal regulatory scheme to ensure broad-based access to markets.
NIGA will continue to take the pulse of our member tribes and consult with tribal leaders on this issue. We have several nationwide discussions taking place, the first of which will occur at the Great Plains Indian Gaming Tradeshow in Shakopee, Minn., March 31 through April 2. This discussion will continue at NIGA’s Indian Gaming Trade Show and Convention May 11 through May 14 in San Diego.
At the heart of the Internet gaming debate, tribes are simply asking to be able to compete on an equal footing. To protect tribal sovereignty and ensure equal access to the market, any Internet gaming legislation should be subjected to the full legislative process, including hearings and markups in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Conversely, if jurisdictions are going to ban Internet gaming, we must look at the impacts on tribal gaming operations in those areas as well.
While we expect 2014 to improve economically, NIGA will continue to focus on using existing gaming revenues to help diversify tribal economies. We are hopeful that in the long term, tribal economies will continue to build upon those aspects that make Indian country unique. This includes continued diversification into cultural and environmental tourism, but also very possibly the internet as well. There are very few places in America that people can visit and experience top-flight entertainment while learning about the culture, traditions and history of America’s first people, and the Internet is probably the first introduction to tribes for millions of people.
We have a lot of work ahead of us, whether it is with maintaining the strength of our existing operations or working with tribes that are still working to find economic sustainability. In 2014, NIGA will continue to work as a united front with tribal leaders and other regional and national Indian organizations to advance the lives of our Indian people economically, socially and politically. I hope you can join us at one of our many events this year, and I look forward to seeing you at our annual Indian Gaming Tradeshow and Convention this May.