Campbell cites pressure facing Indian gaming industry
Tuesday, August 5, 2003

The head of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee introduced legislation last week that would provide guidance on an increasingly sensitive area of the $14.5 billion and growing Indian gaming industry: revenue-sharing.

In introducing the bill, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana, said no one envisioned the tremendous growth tribal casinos would see in the past 15 years. "This success has attracted the attention of other governments, cash-strapped and hungry for new revenues," he observed.

But Campbell believes tribes are being "pressured" to share millions of dollars of revenue without first looking after their own members. So in what he described as a "substantive" provision of S.1529, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act Amendments of 2003, the Department of Interior would be given greater latitude to reject casino compacts that don't "meet the needs of tribal governments and their members."

"Only after satisfying those needs, would states and tribes be able to negotiate a revenue-sharing agreement," he said last Thursday.

As states across the nation face billion-dollar budget deficits, they have turned to tribes to close the gaps. In California, Gov. Gray Davis (D), who is facing a recall election, sought to renegotiate compacts to reap an additional $1.5 billion from Indian casinos. In Wisconsin, Gov. Jim Doyle (D) inked deals that include $200 million in new revenues, prompting criticism from Republicans who said the amount was not enough.

The trend has sparked growing dissent from tribal leaders. At a Senate hearing last month, they aired their complaints before a sympathetic Campbell, who at one point noted that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 does not authorize revenue-sharing.

"Compact negotiations have become a smoke screen for extortion," said Jacob Viarrial, governor of Pojoaque Pueblo in New Mexico, a tribe that has refused to sign an agreement that calls for a percentage of revenues to be shared with the state.

According to the Bush administration, compacts in six states include revenue sharing requirements. They are: Arizona, California, Connecticut, New Mexico, New York and Wisconsin. Compacts in Michigan, approved by court order, also call for sharing.

Other states where sharing has been debated include Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma and Washington. These days, it is rare for a tribe to announce casino plans that don't call for some sort of funding protocol, whether directed to so-called impact funds, schools or government programs.

Interior's process for evaluating compacts that include distribution of funds to state and local governments has developed over time in response to political and legal concerns. There are no concrete rules for accepting or rejecting such agreements, raising concern of fairness to tribes.

The only condition considered is whether tribes are granted some sort of exclusivity for gaming, acting assistant secretary Aurene Martin testified last month.

Tribes aren't the only ones feeling pressure on the issue. Secretary of Interior Gale Norton has had to weigh in on a number of high-profile compacts, and ended up neither approving or disapproving ones in New York and Wisconsin, a move that makes them legal anyway. The only one she rejected outright was a proposal between Louisiana and the Jena Choctaw Tribe, which aides said imposed revenue-sharing without a guarantee of exclusivity.

In addition to providing guidance, Campbell's bill incorporates a suggestion Martin made at the hearing. It would allow the Bureau of Indian Affairs an additional 45 days to review compacts. Other provisions also allow for existing compacts to stay valid for up to 180 days after expiration as long as negotiations between a tribe and a state are underway.

The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), vice chairman of the Indian committee, includes a comprehensive set of changes to boost funding for the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), impose minimum internal controls on casinos and require government-to-government consultation with tribes on gaming issues.

Relevant Documents:
Text of S.1529 | Campbell Statement on S.1529

Senate Testimony:
Written Witness Testimony (July 9, 2003)

Relevant Links:
National Indian Gaming Commission -
National Indian Gaming Association -

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