Off-reservation
initiative dies

Sep 19, 2006 3:27 AM

Last week the U.S. House of Representatives defeated H.R.4893, the bill authored by Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) that would have set stricter standards for off-reservation casinos.

Although the House favored the bill, the 247-171 vote was not enough to meet the two-thirds majority needed to pass the legislation. With the legislative session wrapping up this month, it is unlikely the measure will be addressed again until next year.

Meanwhile, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain’s bill, which would essentially outlaw all off-reservation casinos, is still on hold.

Both measures have stirred up conflict between tribes across the nation. Some of the larger gaming tribes have strongly opposed "reservation shopping," while other tribes contend that building casinos outside their reservation lands is the only option they have for the economic survival of their members. A majority of tribal leaders, however, seem to feel that any changes to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act could open up a world of troubles for the industry.

In California, the Viejas and Ewiiaapaayp tribes of San Diego County were hoping for a "yes" vote to Pombo’s bill””the tribes have been planning a joint venture on a casino project on the Viejas reservation. The Ewiiaapaayp signed a compact with Gov. Schwarzenegger two years ago that gives them permission to build on the Viejas reservation. Pombo’s legislation would have actually allowed the project to proceed.

In a press release from the National Indian Gaming Association, Chairman Ernest Stevens, Jr. thanked tribal leaders for speaking out against the bill.

"Amending IGRA is far too important without a full and fair debate on the House floor," he said.

The release said NIGA felt the bill was "both unnecessary and wrong." The Secretary of Interior has already been working on a regulation to better define the procedures for gaming on Indian lands under IGRA. "Today’s vote gives the Secretary of Interior a chance to issue his regulations on this important matter," Stevens said.

NIGA also opposed Pombo’s bill because it "threatens existing Indian land and property rights." It also undermines tribal sovereignty by giving local governments more power and by abolishing governors’ authority to directly negotiate compacts with tribes.

Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., agrees. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, Kildee said the bill went too far in curbing off-reservation gaming and "undermines our long-standing policy of protecting tribal sovereignty."

Pombo, however, clearly feels his legislation is an attempt to appease gaming opponents, who could push for a halt to the building of any new tribal casinos. He said, "Ultimately, if we don’t do something to regulate this, we may end up with an attempt to stop it," The Chronicle reported.

Republicans
demand recall

Not to be deterred by the fact that the California legislative session is over, Republican leaders are demanding a recall of the Assembly and the Senate to vote on the new compacts offered up by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In a letter to Democratic leaders, Senate GOP leader Dick Ackerman and Assembly GOP leader George Plescia said that the compacts "are too important to our state’s economic well-being and the prosperity of communities across California to wait until the Legislature reconvenes."

The new compacts, for several of the state’s big gaming tribes, would allow up to 22,500 new slot machines and potentially net the state nearly $22 billion over the next 30 years.

Darrel Ng, spokesman for the Schwarzenegger administration, said the governor wanted the compacts signed "as soon as possible" according to The Contra Costa Times. The governor also has the power to call for a reconvening of lawmakers.

Democratic leaders said the compacts were introduced at the last minute, giving them no time to review them in detail. Republican lawmakers accused Democrats of bowing to labor representatives, who want more protection for casino workers under the new deals.