CNIGA may offer compact ‘rules’

Jan 24, 2006 3:54 AM

In an attempt to curb the stricter compacts negotiated by the Schwarzenegger administration, the California Nations Indian Gaming Association has been drafting guidelines for state gaming agreements.

Until now, CNIGA has stayed out of the compact debate, taking a neutral position, and maintaining that compacts are in the hands of each tribe to negotiate individually, as sovereign nations. "Right now our position is we don’t get involved in compacting for or against," CNIGA Chairman Anthony Miranda said.

But compacts in California have been a huge source of disagreement in recent years, and more established gaming tribes worry that those who are new to the market are making too many compromises in their rush to join the tribal gaming industry.

One such compromise is that tribes signing new compacts have agreed to pay up to 25% in revenue sharing with the state. Draft documents circulated among CNIGA members said the guidelines were proposed as a response to "this growing encroachment on tribal sovereignty."

A central set of guidelines would give CNIGA some pull in the state legislature, which has been sitting on several agreements for months, including compacts for the Los Coyotes Band of San Diego County, the Quechan of Imperial County and the Lytton Band in San Pablo.

But Miranda admits that a proposal for statewide compact guidelines may never actually see the light of day, by the very fact that tribes are sovereign nations.

Still, the potential for statewide guidelines has brought out the opposition. Tribal attorney Larry Stidham told the Copley News Service, "It’s the big tribes that don’t want other tribes to get compacts. They want to control that process."

Sounds good,
in theory

In the scramble to establish tighter lobbying policies, one aspect of Sen. John McCain’s (R-Arizona) proposed reforms to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is looking pretty good to some tribal attorneys. Under the bill filed last month, anyone doing business with IGRA-covered tribes would be subject to a background check, and their dealings with tribes would be followed very closely. Tribal attorneys say this would eliminate a loophole that allowed lobbyist Jack Abramoff to swindle tribes out of more than $66 million.

But attorneys for tribes at the heart of the controversy, the Tigua and Alabama-Coushatta of Texas, say the IGRA reforms do nothing to help these tribes. The Tigua and Alabama-Coushatta are among a handful of tribes not covered by IGRA. Both were recognized as federal tribes by the Texas Restoration Act, which prohibits them from gambling without specific state legislation.

Alabama-Coushatta attorney Fred Petti noted that, had the tribes been covered by IGRA, Abramoff would have had no reason to lobby the Legislature against a bill that would have granted the tribes gambling authority. Petti said in an Associated Press article that without changes to the Restoration Act, there is nothing to "prevent the next Jack Abramoff from doing the same thing."

The Tigua paid Abramoff $4.2 million to help reopen their Speaking Rock casino, and the Alabama-Coushatta coughed up $50,000, not knowing that Abramoff was working against them.

Don’t put the cart
before the horse

Here’s a final bit of news that I couldn’t resist, proving that it’s so easy to throw politicians into a tizzy these days, it’s almost embarrassing. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions (R) and Representative Robert Aderholt (R) say they have already spoken to the BIA and the NIGC to block the United Keetoowah Band of Oklahoma from opening a casino in their state. Woah, boys!

While 69 acres in Fort Payne, Alabama, have been donated to the tribe, they say they currently have no plans for a casino.

"We look at this as our old aboriginal land," Vice Chief Charles Locust said in an Associated Press article. "At this time, we don’t have any plans for a gaming center." Locust said the tribe is planning a museum and cultural center. And if, in the future, the Keetoowah decide to pursue gaming in Alabama, there are innumerable hoops they will have to jump through.

The first of which is getting the land placed in trust (and we know how long that can take).

Congressmen, take a pill.