Jonodev O. Chaudhuri is concluding his tenure as chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission. Photo by Andrew Bahl for Indianz.Com

National Indian Gaming Commission plans major announcement on June 26

The National Indian Gaming Commission is making a major announcement on June 26.

Chairman Jonodev Osceola Chaudhuri and other officials will announce the 2017 gross gaming revenues for the tribal casino industry, according to a media advisory. The event takes place at NIGC headquarters in Washington, D.C., and will be broadcast via Adobe Connect. Indian Country can also participate by phone.

The event, typically held every summer, reveals the health of the Indian gaming industry. Over the last few cycles, tribes have shown growth at their facilities, reporting $31.2 billion in 2016, an increase of 4.4 percent from the year prior.

In 2015, revenues totaled $29.9 billion, the NIGC reported. That represented a 5 percent increase, the largest growth rate in 10 years.

Gross gaming revenues in 2016 by region. Source: National Indian Gaming Commission

The announcement comes as the NIGC itself is in transition. Last month, Chaudhuri conducted an "exit interview" with Indian Country Today, which said the Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizen had "finished his commitment" at the federal agency.

According to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the chairman of the NIGC serves a three-year term. Chaudhuri took his oath of office on May 14, 2015, and while he has not announced when he is leaving, he indicated it could be sometime this summer.

"I have been and remain committed to a smooth transition and, in the near future, will announce a departure date. In the meantime, though, I anticipate working with our incredible team through at least a good part of the summer to close out as many matters as possible," Chaudhuri said in a May 9 statement.

Chaudhuri's exit opens the door for President Donald Trump, who has antagonized tribes with race-based attacks and once questioned the legality of Indian gaming, to reshape the agency. Under IGRA, the chairman of the NIGC must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

The process typically takes months to complete and it has not been Trump's strong point. In February, he abandoned his choice for the Indian Health Service after questions were raised about the nominee's background.

Trump's pick to lead the Bureau of Indian Affairs finally secured confirmation hearing in the Senate last month after months of delays linked to her background. But Tara Sweeney, who is Inupiat from Alaska, is taking a major step this week with a committee vote on her nomination.

The other two members of the NIGC are named by the Department of the Interior so they do not require additional confirmation. But even the Obama administration lagged in filling vacancies at the agency -- it took more than a year for Barack Obama to name his first chairman and the vice chair and associate commissioner posts went vacant at certain points.

The vice chair post is held by Kathryn Isom-Clause, who is a citizen of the Pueblo of Taos. She was named during the Obama era -- her three-year term isn't set to expire until next March.

The associate commissioner is E. Sequoyah Simermeyer, who hails from the non-federally recognized Coharie Tribe and has ancestry from the Navajo Nation. His three-year term expires in November of this year. He has ties to Republicans.

The NIGC does not need a full slate of commissioners to continue its regulatory work. It has been rare for all three members to be needed to make a final decision, for example. Other activities and functions do not need all three members present.

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