Congress Takes Steps To Change Sports Betting Rules

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State legislatures across the country have been jumping into online sports betting all year. Now federal lawmakers, hoping to ensure tribal communities aren’t left behind, are taking action too. 

Reps. Luis Correa (D-Calif.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.) have introduced H.R. 4308, which would essentially modify the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the main federal statute establishing gaming regulations on tribal lands.  

“Congress needs to provide the clarification in my bill to ensure that tribal gaming is not relegated to the same fate as Blockbuster, but can move forward and thrive like Netflix in the era of the internet,” Correa said in remarks entered in the Congressional Record upon filing the legislation.

Sports Betting A New Source Of Economic Growth For Tribes

The text of the bill is not yet available, and emails to Correa’s and Katko’s offices were not returned.   

The summary listed in the Congressional Record states the bill would “remove Federal barriers regarding the offering of mobile wagers on Indian lands when the applicable State and Indian Tribe have reached an agreement.”

In his remarks in the Congressional Record, Correa made clear he does not want to see tribes suffer as a result of a changing landscape. 

“Many tribal nations [who conduct gaming] have become economic engines in their regions, employing thousands of people and investing tens of millions of dollars into the regional economies on an annual basis,” he said.

“However, the gaming industry is quickly evolving and more and more states are legalizing some form of gaming activity that primarily utilizes the internet. Sophisticated, well-financed digital companies that did not exist even 10 years ago are changing the gaming industry before our eyes.”

Federal Bill Targets Agreements Like Such As Florida Compact

Florida reached an agreement in May with the Seminole Tribe of Florida which would allow the tribe to offer sports betting through servers located on its property.

Opponents have called this a technicality and on Friday took the case to court arguing the servers do not live up to the intent of IGRA, which stipulates tribal gaming must take place “on Indian lands.”

Because the compact involves tribal issues the Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland must sign off on it.  A decision from her is expected later this month.

Correa thinks tribes should not have to wait and hopes his legislation would help DOI move faster and without confusion. 

“The federal law governing tribal gaming was enacted in 1988, prior to the internet being readily available, and the law does not expressly address the internet. As you can imagine, setting up these new gaming systems involves significant financial investments. Tribal governments should not be required to make these investments without having clarity and comfort of what laws will apply to them,” he said.

Bob Jarvis, a gambling law expert at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, said the federal legislation is an effort to offer clarity and guidance to tribes in Florida and elsewhere.

“[T]he fact that Correa has introduced HR 4308 shows:  1) how much other tribes want to do what the Seminoles are trying to do; and, 2) the concern that such tribes have that the Seminoles’ plan will be invalidated by either DOI or the courts,” Jarvis wrote in an email to Gaming Today.

Correa’s bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

About the Author

Mary M. Shaffrey

Mary Shaffrey is an award-winning journalist who co-authored "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Government." She has spent more than 20 years covering government, both at the state and federal level. As a fan of the Baltimore Orioles and the Providence College Friars she feels cursed. Luckily she is a hockey mom too so her spirits aren't totally shot.

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