After two nomination hearings, Jonodev Chaudhuri was finally approved by the U.S. Senate to become the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission. He has been serving on the commission for well over a year, but some procedural issues delayed his appointment as chairman. Now in the hot seat, Chaudhuri has been campaigning on the effectiveness of the NIGC under the Obama administration despite fewer NOVs (notices of violations). He says the agency’s focus on training has reduced these kinds of incidents. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros at the annual Indian Gaming tradeshow in San Diego in early April. To hear a full podcast of this interview, click on the link.
GGB: Under IGRA, the NIGC was established to be an independent agency, totally separate from other departments. But in the past few years, the ties to the Interior Department seem to have deepened. Explain what your relationship is with Interior today.
Jonadev Chaudhuri: We are an independent regulatory agency, committed to performing our independent regulatory mission, as set forth under IGRA. That said, I think it just makes sense to have as open and strong dialogue with regulatory partners as you can have. So, whether it’s DOI where we work together with on many issues, or other agencies within the federal family, we’re committed to open dialogue. By extension, that’s also true with other regulatory partners in the field—tribal regulatory partners, and in particular circumstances, states as well. I’m committed to doing whatever I can to strengthen our dialogue with our partners.
The NIGC clearly has jurisdiction over Class II gaming. What’s your approach to Class III oversight?
IGRA is pretty specific regarding our role with Class III gaming, and we are committed to implementing IGRA to the best of our abilities.
Former Chairman Phil Hogen tried to draw what he called a “bright line” between the two classifications of gaming, by strictly defining certain standards of games and how they are played. Is that something you’re backing away from at this point?
Well, I wouldn’t say we’re backing away from anything. We take very seriously our day-to-day responsibility of implementing IGRA. So, while I absolutely respect Chairman Hogen’s efforts to create a bright line regarding game classification, I also recognize that regardless of how bright that line may be under the law—and IGRA is pretty specific regarding its definitions of Class II and Class III gaming—you still always have to apply the facts of a given situation to the law. And so, while it may be helpful to think of bright lines in terms of the law, every classification that comes to the NIGC is very fact-dependent, and we review fact-dependent issues on a case-by-case basis.
The General Accounting Office is completing an audit of NIGC regulatory actions over the past few years. We’ve had some experts tell us, and we’ve reported that these actions will be shown to have been dramatically decreased over the past administrations. Explain why that is.
I’m not sure, in terms of the way you framed your question, whether or not there will be a showing of a reduction of regulatory actions. As I’ve said repeatedly, we are absolutely committed to doing everything we can both on the front end and on the back end, to achieve compliance with federal law. I think that’s the ultimate goal of IGRA. So with that in mind, all of our efforts aimed at training and technical assistance, I would suggest are regulatory actions. I think what you may be referring to are certain types of enforcement actions regarding closure orders or fines, but I would absolutely say every time we do a compliance review, or every time we do a training, or every time we provide technical assistance, that’s regulatory activity targeted toward compliance as well.
Explain how tribal gaming commissions play a part in this patchwork of regulatory laws.
I think IGRA clearly contemplates tribal regulators as the primary regulators of Indian gaming. Certainly there’s a role for NIGC as the federal regulator, and given the facets of the given compact, states play a role as well. But IGRA itself recognizes tribes as the primary regulators of Indian gaming. And I think everybody involved in the industry has embraced that concept. I think they have been effective regulators. We certainly are mindful of our oversight role, but back to this idea of using every tool in your toolbox to achieve compliance when you’re performing your oversight rule, that’s what we’re about.
Another tool in the toolbox you’re using very effectively right now is the training and certification for the tribes. Explain how that’s improving the regulation at the tribal level.
I’m still relatively new to the commission. I joined in 2013. In 2013, we trained more tribal regulatory partners than as an agency we had ever trained before, historically. That’s just a fact. And we did so at more training events than we’d ever conducted in the past. That was 2013. In 2014, we bettered that—we trained more people at more training events than we had ever trained before. And we’re certainly on pace to even better that. In order to have strong regulation, you have to have a properly trained workforce. Not just at NIGC, but among our regulatory partners. So training is and always will be part of what we do. And it’s contemplated in IGRA that we provide training and technical assistance as well. So we see it as a fundamental pillar of our statutory mission.