Keeping a Pulse on Government-Related Issues

The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) will remain on the frontlines to protect tribal sovereignty during the winter congressional session.

Coming out of the mid-term elections we must be vigilant in monitoring potential legislation that will impact Indian country: Internet gaming, taxation and gaming regulation. As always, we will maintain a strong presence on Capitol Hill and be prepared to work through December until Congress heads home. We are assessing the changes in committees, in terms of leadership and composition, to inform our member tribes of relationships to be forged, who will need to be educated on Indian gaming and tribal sovereignty and potential collaborations and partnerships that will exist. Our continuous efforts to educate Congress on the special relationship between the United States and tribal nations never ends, and we must be persistent in telling our story and providing our representatives with the proper knowledge and understanding to best address our needs.

In keeping with the protection of Indian gaming, we have a keen interest in the appointment process for the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission. President Barack Obama nominated Acting Chairman Jonodev Chaudhuri on July 22, 2014. To date, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee has not released a confirmation schedule. Indian country supports the confirmation of Chaudhuri.

Under the acting chairman’s leadership, the National Indian Gaming Commission has maintained the self-sufficiency-focused Assistance, Compliance and Enforcement (ACE) Initiative. The ACE Initiative keeps with the commission’s responsibilities as intended by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. By providing assistance, ensuring compliance and compelling enforcement, the commission is providing the regulatory framework that was intended for Indian gaming. Assistance is offered through training and technical assistance to frontline regulators and commissioners at the tribal level. Regular audits and compliance checks are then made to ensure that proper minimum internal controls are in place and operational. Finally, voluntary corrective actions are put in place at the gaming location to avoid punitive enforcement actions. The ACE initiative has had a significantly positive impact, resulting in a reduction in the number of enforcement-type actions that the commission has had to issue.

To his credit, Chaudhuri has been successful in the tribal consultation process and ensuring that the commission hears the needs of Indian gaming regulators and operators. The federal regulation of our industry is critically important, and having a chairman at the helm who can provide leadership and direction with strong tribal input is essential. We look forward to the final confirmation of Chaudhuri as chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission so Indian country may continue our collaborative efforts in bettering Indian gaming.

This past summer NIGA testified in a Senate Indian Affairs Committee Hearing. The hearing was titled “Indian Gaming: the Next 25 Years.” NIGA testified on the historical gaming that tribes engage in, the unfulfilled promises of the U.S. government to tribes and the legal framework behind the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

In my testimony, I reminded them of the humble beginnings of Indian gaming and explained how it has grown and become the most successful economic development tool in Indian country. Indian gaming revenues strengthen tribal governments, provide necessary services and programs in education, health, social services, elder care, child care and public safety. Indian gaming revenues fund tribal infrastructure, including roads, water, sewer, buildings and technological improvements.

Tribal governments have taken the role as the primary regulators of their operations very seriously by ensuring the allocation of proper resources and forming strong partnerships with other levels of regulation, such as at state and national levels. I also reminded them of Indian gaming’s impact beyond tribal reservations. Tribes nationally spend $422 million on tribal, state and federal regulation, while they spend $83 million to reimburse states for regulatory and infrastructure impacts. Not only are we providing employment for Indians and non-Indians alike, we also provide charitable gifts to many local community organizations. We have added to local and state government budgets for the provision of services on which we can collaborate and we have far reaching economic impacts in ancillary businesses that support the Indian gaming industry. The testimony was a great opportunity for NIGA to highlight the positive impacts of Indian gaming, both now and in the future.

The “Indian Gaming: the Next 25 Years” hearing prompted a detailed review of Indian gaming. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and John McCain, R-Ariz., have requested a review on the implementation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The GAO is gathering information on how tribes oversee Indian gaming as the first tier of regulation and States’ views on the regulation of Indian gaming. Regional and national tribal gaming associations are also asked to provide their views on how tribal gaming operations vary in regulation, compliance and oversight at the tribal, state and national level; how tribes interact with state, Department of the Interior and the National Indian Gaming Commission; challenges that Indian gaming faces; whether or not the ACE initiative has a positive effect on compliance and regulation; and the level of satisfaction with the NIGC training and technical assistance offerings.

The GAO review will inform the requestors of the steps that the Department of Interior takes in reviewing tribal/state compacts, how Indian gaming is overseen by states and six select tribes (from Arizona, California, Michigan, New York, Oklahoma and Washington) and how the NIGC oversees Indian gaming. We are confident that the GAO review will confirm that Indian gaming is the most highly regulated form of gaming in the United States and that our regulations have been effective in preventing any criminal element.

These are just a few of the government-related issues facing the Indian gaming segment of the industry. We will continue to work in partnership with our governmental counterparts to ensure Indian gaming is not only properly regulated, but also that tribal sovereignty is protected and preserved.

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