McCain stumps for tribal reform

Nov 1, 2005 3:34 AM

Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz.) is on the warpath and will not be diverted. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, he is determined to put an end to off-reservation casinos.

McCain met with tribal leaders in Portland recently and told them he will continue to pursue legislation restricting tribal casinos. If not, "you get into a situation of, where does it stop?"

The senator wants it to stop short of downtown and metropolitan areas.

Tribal leaders have encouraged McCain and other senators to leave the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act alone. But McCain insists. "The issue is going to be revisited," he said. "I’m sorry, we have a difference of opinion."

McCain wants stricter financial oversight of tribal casinos, adding that the gaming industry had "a long history of corruption."

While opinions about off-reservation casinos vary among tribes themselves, opening up the IGRA for review could invite a world of problems for the Indian gaming industry in general.

Besides off-reservation casinos, other key issues are taxes and revenue sharing, state and local control, Class II and Class III definitions and land-into-trust approval.

The Rich and Famous

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation is the richest sovereign nation on earth, according to The Boston Herald. Though the tribe doesn’t release a full accounting of revenue from its Foxwoods Resort Casino, the Mashantucket Pequots’ gaming enterprise pulls in around $1.7 billion annually, according to the Herald.

That’s $137,000 for each of the 800 tribal members. By comparison, Monaco, the world’s best-known casino-state, makes $27,000 per capita.

With a complex that covers 4.7 million square feet, Foxwoods is already the largest resort casino in the world, and leaders recently announced a $700 million expansion project. The casino is also hosting this year’s World Poker Finals, and is jumping on the poker craze by scrapping some 200 slot machines to make way for more tables.

(See accompanying story at left.)

Slot players needn’t worry, though. That leaves 7,200 machines on which to play.

Double whammy
for Spokane tribe

The Spokane Tribe’s Double Eagle Casino has been forcibly closed by the tribe’s own gaming commission. The casino has been in operation since 1986 as a "grandfathered" casino under the protection of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.

In September, the tribe pulled its electronic gaming devices out of the casino — a move that prompted a lawsuit from tribal member and casino owner Ronald "Buzz" Gutierrez. Gutierrez then installed over 100 Class II electronic devices, which simulate bingo. The Tribal Gaming Commission said those devices were installed without its approval, and ordered the casino’s closure.

"At the time of the closure, we were conducting casino games that we have every right to as a grandfathered casino under both the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and the Spokane Tribal Gaming Code," said Gutierrez. Gutierrez’s attorney said the Double Eagle’s Class II gaming license is approval enough.

An attorney for the tribe disagreed, saying the machines were illegal under federal and state law, and that the Double Eagle had not paid its annual fees to the NIGC.

Meanwhile, Gov. Christine Gregoire rejected the tribe’s proposal for an off-reservation casino in Spokane — along with a compact that would have included up to 35% revenue sharing with the state. The governor expressed concern over the off-reservation site and wants the tribe to reconsider building the casino on tribal trust land instead.

State Sen. Margarita Prentice, (D) agreed. "Other tribes would want to do the same thing and there’d be no way we could stop them," she said in a statement.

Tribal and state officials must now go back to the negotiating table.

The Spokane Tribe is the only tribe in the state that has a gambling operation but no gaming compact.