The newly formed National Indian Gaming Commission is much younger than its previous incarnation under the Bush administration. And that youth movement even extends beyond the commission members. The new chief of staff is youthful and energetic, but still packs a lot of tribal gaming experience into his career.
Paxton Myers is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolina, and began his gaming career in the Harrah’s casino owned by the tribe. He later became the chief of staff for tribal Chairman Mitchell Hicks and then moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked as the Native American coordinator on the staff of Congressman Dale Kildee (D-Michigan).
Myers says it’s not only his gaming experience but that of other commissioners that will contribute to a better understanding of the regulatory process.
“It brings a new perspective to the commission,” he says, “because we know how things run from the inside. We understand why regulations are implemented and what the results of the regulations are on the casino itself. So that experience is a plus and it gives us a real balance.”
As chief of staff, Myers has to understand the issues in Indian Country and the federal government before they may come to the commission. He says his contacts in Congress, in the other federal departments and in the field help him do his job.
“I try to stay in touch with these folks on a daily basis so I can become aware of what’s happening and can advise the commissioners,” he says.
Myers is also charged with making sure that relations with tribes are cordial and professional, and less adversarial than the previous administration.
“We’re trying to build and foster relationships with the tribes,” he says. “We have a job to do and the tribes know that. But if you can deliver the information while working in consultation with the tribe, it helps them understand the reasons behind it. They may not agree, but if it’s done with respect, I think we can work more closely in the future.”
While Myers says the large gaming tribes are important to the commission, outreach to the smaller tribes is also key to the commission’s success.
“We have 565 federally recognized tribes in this country, but only 232 are gaming tribes,” he explains. “Those range from Las Vegas-style facilities to smaller Sprung structures. So there’s a wide diversity of casinos; there’s the same goal of communicating to all the tribes. Sometimes it’s even more important to the smaller tribes who may depend upon their business even more than the larger tribes.”
Myers’ time in Congress gives him a unique perspective as well.
“We don’t lobby Congress or submit legislation,” he says. “We try to work with members of the committees that have oversight over our agency. I’m in touch with their staff members, and try to leverage relationships that I have already established in the past.”
Like the commissioners, Myers stresses the importance of working with the six regional offices of the NIGC. Part of his duties is to stay involved with those offices.
“Any decision they make or enforcement action that is to be taken must be reported to us,” he says. “So I’m very involved in staying in touch and current with all those offices.”