Still no word from Obama over off-reservation casino policy

The Obama administration has yet to announce its policy on off-reservation gaming, months after a senior Bureau of Indian Affairs official said a decision was going to be made "fairly soon."

George Skibine, the acting principal deputy assistant secretary, told The Wall Street Journal in September 2009 that the new administration was looking at prior policy. But there's been no word from Washington, D.C.

“They said last September it was imminent,” Mark Van Norman, the executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association, said at a conference in California, GamblingCompliance repoted. “It still hasn’t happened.”

The Bush administration adopted several changes that make it nearly impossible for tribes to acquire land away from existing reservations. All were implemented without tribal consultation or public comment.

On compacts, the Bush administration barred the approval of Class III gaming compacts that refer to sites that are not in trust. The directive was used to reject an agreement for an off-reservation casino in Oregon.

The Bush administration also changed the manner in which off-reservation gaming projects are reviewed under the two-part determination section of Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Such projects require the approval of the state governor, a notoriously difficult task.

Since IGRA was passed in 1988, the BIA tackled this step first before considering the tribe's land-into-trust application. Support from a governor and the local community would basically guarantee approval of the application.

But the Bush administration changed the order and rejected an off-reservation casino in New York even though the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe already had the support of the governor. In another case, two Wisconsin tribes were rejected even though they have overwhelmingly local support for an off-reservation casino

Finally, the Bush administration issued a "guidance memorandum" in January 2008 that said greater scrutiny would be taken for land-into-trust applications that are away from existing reservations. No mileage limit was specified but the head of the BIA at the time suggested the farthest a tribe could go is 40 miles.

Get the Story:
Bay Area Casino Bid Probes Limits of Control (GamblingCompliance 6/16)

Off-Reservation Gaming Policy:
Guidance on taking off-reservation land into trust for gaming purposes (January 3, 2008)