A remark to the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee by Assistant Interior Secretary Carl Artman suggests that the Interior Department may be willing to approve Indian casinos within 40 miles of a reservation, but no farther away.
“We are taking land into trust that is off reservation,” Artman testified in late February. “Most of those are 40 miles or below.”
In January, Interior rejected 11 off-reservation casino applications because of “commutability” concerns. The proposed sites were 70 to 1,500 miles from the applying tribes’ reservations.
Interior did not specify that those distances were too great, but reasoned that distant casino jobs would attract tribal members to move from reservations, diminishing the quality of life there. Angered tribes called the argument paternalistic.
Several tribes have started pressing to overturn the commutability guideline, issued in an internal Interior policy guide made public the same day the off-rez rejections were announced.
“The tribes obviously did not have proper notice” of what they see as new policy hastily applied, says Alex Skibine, a University of Utah law professor. The lack of government-to-government consultation and public comment may have infringed on their rights under government regulations and the Constitution, he says. (Skibine’s twin brother, George, is director of Interior’s Office of Indian Gaming Management.)
Would-be off-rez casino operators might find allies among non-gaming tribes. Artman told the resources committee that Interior’s distance policy applies to all land-into-trust applications, “alarming” many tribes, one report said.
Artman said tribes knew the distance decision was coming, and that it was “too late” in the short remaining tenure of the Bush administration for standard rule-making processes.
Some tribes may wait for a new administration in Washington, D.C., before forcing any issues. Democratic presidential contenders have said little about tribal gaming, but John McCain, who wrapped up the Republican candidacy last month, has long been a vociferous critic of off-reservation gaming.