A view of the gaming floor at the Quechan Casino Resort, owned and operated by the Quechan Nation in in Winterhaven, California. Photo: Quechan Casino Resort

Trump hire at Bureau of Indian Affairs heads back to Capitol Hill for gaming hearing

The senior-most political official at the Bureau of Indian Affairs is back on Capitol Hill this week.

John Tahsuda, a citizen of the Kiowa Tribe who serves as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, will be testifying about the tribal gaming industry at a hearing on Wednesday afternoon. It marks his second appearance before Congress in as many weeks and his second since joining the Trump administration last month.

Tahsuda has experience in the matter, having worked at the National Indian Gaming Association, the largest inter-tribal gaming organization. He also represented tribal gaming interests as a lobbyist with Navigators Global, a Washington, D.C., firm.

Additionally, he's worked for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, which is hosting the hearing. His former boss, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), still serves on the panel and tribal gaming has long been one of the lawmaker's top priorities.

The BIA itself plays an important role in the industry. Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, the agency must review all Class III gaming compacts between tribes and states. The BIA also reviews revenue allocation plans submitted by tribes.

More significantly, the BIA processes tribal applications for new casinos, primarily those located on lands away from existing reservations. The Trump administration is already erecting hurdles for these projects by placing decisions in the hands of political officials at the Department of the Interior in D.C.

Typically, such applications are handled by the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. But President Donald Trump, who was hostile to tribal interests when he was involved in commercial gaming, has failed to nominate someone for the post, something his Democratic and Republican predecessors had already done by this time in their first terms.

The hearing takes place immediately following a business meeting at 2:30pm Eastern on Wednesday. The sessions are being held in Room 216 of the Senate Hart Office Building, a larger space used when the committee expects a larger crowd than normal.

The full witness list follows:
Panel 1:
The Honorable Jonodev Osceola Chaudhuri
National Indian Gaming Commission, Washington, DC

Mr. John Tahsuda III
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs
U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC

Panel 2:
The Honorable Keeny Escalanti
Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe, Yuma, AZ

The Honorable Harold "Gus" Frank
Forest County Potawatomi, Crandon, WI

Mr. Ernest L. Stevens, Jr.
National Indian Gaming Association

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice:
Oversight Hearing on “Doubling Down on Indian Gaming: Examining New Issues and Opportunities for Success in the Next 30 Years” (October 4, 2017)

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Senate Committee on Indian Affairs schedules hearing on tribal gaming industry (September 25, 2017)