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Tribes Get Real About Online Gaming

Indian Country looking for a seat at the table

Tribes Get Real About Online Gaming

It’s no longer tribe versus tribe when it comes to online gaming in Washington, D.C. Although the California tribes continue to have differences regarding a possible legalization of online poker within that state, in the nation’s capital, things are changing.

With commercial casinos ramping up lobbying efforts—recently announcing the formation of a PAC, FairPlayUSA, to promote legal online poker—tribes are starting to realize they must get aboard or be left behind. And after a recent alliance between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), previously a fierce opponent of online gaming, tribes understand that the stars could be lining up.

“We’re 40 percent of all gaming in this country, and we’re going to be left out of the internet gambling bill,” Jess Green, an attorney and a member of the Oklahoma’s Chickasaw Nation, told GamblingCompliance.

But with the tribes’ insistence that any legalization of online gaming should fall within the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 and that no federal tax could be implemented, it’s difficult to see where compromise could be reached.

While no bill has yet been drafted outlining the role of tribes in online gaming, National Indian Gaming Association President Ernie Stevens says there should not be any more federal agencies set up to oversee it.

“We don’t expect to have to go to a new agency that doesn’t understand Indian sovereignty,” Stevens said.

Sheila Morago, executive director of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, says tribes have proven they can oversee and regulate any kind of gaming.

“We are perfectly capable of operating and regulating internet gaming,” she told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee recently, “and I think when you’re looking at these bills, it’s important that you have to remember that. It shouldn’t be a monopoly for the commercial gaming industry that we don’t have access to.”

Limiting online gaming to tribes currently conducting land-based gaming is also a non-starter, according to some tribes. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota is located on a remote reservation where land-based casinos would not succeed. So the tribe wants to be able to take advantage of this opportunity.

“The ability to join with other tribal nations in internet gaming might save us millions of dollars in terms of the start-up costs for any tribal gaming,” tribal attorney Steve Emery told GamblingCompliance. “That’s incredibly important to us because, among other things, we have the dubious distinction of having the poorest county in the United States.”

While the tribes are preparing for a possible legalization, it’s not a guaranteed thing. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) is the only Native American currently serving in Congress. He says he’d oppose any online poker bill in the House because it could “destroy an industry that employs tens of thousands of people.”

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