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Politics
BIA continues work on gaming land regulation


The Bureau of Indian Affairs is still taking comments on a new set of rules that would guide how land is taken into trust for casino projects.

The agency released the regulation back in October amid heightened scrutiny of the $23 billion Indian gaming industry. Republican members of Congress were pushing legislation that would have limited the ability of tribes to acquire land for new casinos.

But with one bill defeated and its sponsor voted out of office on Election Day, and another measure locked up in the Senate, the BIA is chugging forward with its proposal. Tribes have two more weeks, until December 19, to send in their comments.

"We think it's a good regulation," Mark Van Norman, the executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association, said at the recent Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. NIGA opposed legislative changes but endorsed the rule-making process.

The rules, for the first time, establish guidelines for the acquisition of land under Section 20 of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The section lays out four exceptions under which tribes can open casinos on land taken into trust after 1988.

The first exception applies to Oklahoma tribes with former reservations. Another is for tribes who are recognized through the BIA process or through acts of Congress.

The third covers tribes who were restored to federal recognition. The final exception applies to tribes who have settled land claims.

If a tribe fails to meet one or more of the exceptions, Section 20 contains another mechanism for opening casinos. Known as the two-part determination, these applications must gain approval from the BIA and concurrence of the state governor.

In the history of IGRA, the two-part determination has only been successful three times. The land claim exception has been used twice, by the same tribe in New York.

The newly recognized and restored tribe exceptions have been utilized far more often as has the Oklahoma exception. Indianz.Com counted more than 30 casino approvals under these exceptions.

In weighing applications under the exceptions, the BIA will follow the language of IGRA. No drastic changes are being made to the land-into-trust process, but tribes and their advocates have been paying close attention to the rules to make sure no additional restrictions are imposed on them.

BIA officials say they aren't breaking new ground with the regulation. "To a large degree the regulations are a continuation of existing practices," George Skibine, the head of the Office of Indian Gaming Management, said at one of the consultation sessions this year.

With only a few days left in the 109th Congress, tribes also have been watching any last-minute maneuvers on Capitol Hill. So far, they haven't seen any attempts at "midnight riders" on appropriations or other pieces of legislation.

When Democrats take control of the House and Senate for the 110th Congress, tribal advocates except some of the heat to be taken off gaming. "There's a feeling in Indian Country that Indian education and Indian health have been neglected," said Van Norman.

"I think there will be renewed interest in those issues in the next Congress," he predicted.

Section 20 Regulations:
Notice of Extension | Text | PDF

NIGA Resolutions:
Section 20 | IGRA Amendments

Relevant Documents:
Kevin Gover Testimony | Aurene Martin Testimony | Title 25 CFR Part 151 Land-into-Trust Process | Section 20 of IGRA | GAO Report

Pombo IGRA Bill:
H.R.4893 [As Passed by Committee] | H.R.4893 [As Introduced] | MP3: House Resources Committee Debate | Substitute | Explanation

McCain IGRA Bill:
S.2078 | Senate Indian Affairs Committee Report

Relevant Links:
Senate Indian Affairs Committee - http://indian.senate.gov
NIGC Indian Land Determinations - http://www.nigc.gov/nigc/nigcControl?option=LAND_DETERMINATIONS
National Indian Gaming Association - http://www.indiangaming.org