Rumored movement toward the legalization of online gaming in Congress has increased activity in the tribal arena either in support of or opposition to the measures. Some tribes are quite specific when it comes to opposition.
“We see legalization of internet gambling as a direct threat to the economic growth in Indian country, and we do not support any proposals that legalize internet gambling,” Glen Gobin, an official with the Tulalip Tribes in Washington state, told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee recently.
Last month, Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) revealed a draft of the Tribal Online Gaming Act of 2012, which would permit federally recognized tribes to apply for licenses to operate online poker.
Robert Odawi Porter, president of the New York-based Seneca Nation of Indians, is opposed to online gaming unless the tribes are permitted to play a major role, which includes the drafting of any federal bill and input on regulations.
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 allows tribes to accept bets from players on Indian land, but any online gaming bill would expand the tribal reach, something that some experts believe is crucial to the survival of Indian gaming.
“Such a limitation would be ludicrous and incompatible with the very nature of the internet,” said Alex Skibine, a professor at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law in Salt Lake City. “The internet is not land-based. It does not have geographical boundaries.”
Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum, chairman of the Mohegan Tribe in Connecticut, believes the only way online gaming will work is if Congress approves it at a federal level.
“Tribes should be extremely hesitant to entrust their economic futures to the tender mercies of the 50 states, many of which are still in financial crises and looking for new sources of revenue,” he said in testimony before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
Bozsum said his tribe is formulating regulations for online gaming.
Gobin said that even though he opposes internet gaming, “tribes must have equal footing to participate.”
Both Bozsum and Gobin asked the Senate committee to ensure that a role for the National Indian Gaming Commission is written into any online gaming legislation.
“The NIGC is an independent agency, able to review, amend and promulgate regulations in an effective and timely manner. It has over 20 years of extensive regulatory experience in gaming, and it is the only federal agency with that experience,” Gobin said.
Tribal gaming lawyer Elizabeth Lohah Homer advocated a lead role for the NIGC.
“Any legislation that would operate to bifurcate federal regulatory oversight responsibilities between the NIGC and another federal agency should be avoided as it would create uncertainties, increase the potential for inter-agency conflict, and subject tribal governments to oversight by federal personnel inexperienced in Indian Affairs, Indian law and policy, the federal-Indian relationship, and the regulation of gaming,” she said. “Having two regulatory agencies regulating essentially the same function would be redundant and problematic.”
As she has in the past, NIGC Chairwoman Tracie Stevens would commit to any role for her agency.
Akaka, a longtime friend of the tribes in the Senate, says tribes cannot be left behind. “We in Congress—and especially on this committee—also have a responsibility to ensure that tribal views and priorities are part of any legislation that could impact tribal gaming,” he said.