The Bureau of Indian Affairs is moving quickly to develop new regulations for gaming-related land acquisitions, a senior official said on Tuesday.
George Skibine, the director of the Office of Indian Gaming Management, said he is planning to send a letter to tribal leaders announcing the new rules. The BIA will then hold consultation sessions in March and April, publish a draft in the Federal Register by late May or June and finalize the proposal sometime in the summer, he said.
Skibine hoped to send "Dear Tribal Leader" letter out as early as yesterday but he said associate deputy secretary Jim Cason is still reviewing the document. "My boss," Skibine said, "is going over the draft with a microscope."
"At this point we hope to have the letter out at the end of this week," he added.
Officially, the timeline for the implementation of the regulations is being disclosed in a letter to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. At a hearing last month, the panel pressed Interior Secretary Gale Norton to finalize the rules, which have been on hold for more than four years. Norton's response will be delivered on Friday, Skibine said..
Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the chairman of the committee, said the regulations were long overdue. He pointed out that it's been 17 years since the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
The law generally bars gaming on land acquired after 1988. But its contains several exceptions, contained in Section 20, to allow tribes to build casinos if certain conditions are met.
"In light of the astronomical growth in Indian gaming," McCain said, "I clearly time to revisit these exceptions."
The focus of yesterday's hearing was the two-part determination process, which allows tribes to build casinos on non-reservation land as long as the BIA agrees and the state governor concurs. Since 1988, only three tribes have successfully completed this process.
Skibine's regulations will cover the two-part determination as well as the four IGRA exceptions for newly recognized tribes, restored tribes, tribes in Oklahoma with former reservations and tribes with a land claim settlement.
A draft of the rules, released in late January, indicates the BIA isn't planning on striking any new ground. For the most part, the proposal merely clarifies existing policy for gaming-related
This approach is supported by the National Indian Gaming Association, the largest inter-tribal casino lobby. Mark Van Norman, the group's executive director, said the regulatory process -- rather than changing IGRA -- is the best approach to the debate.
"We did have a consensus that it's better not to amend Section 20 of IGRA at this time," Van Norman said yesterday at the winter session of the National Congress of American
Indians in Washington, D.C.
McCain, on the other hand, has proposed significant changes to Section 20 that would make it harder for tribes to open casinos on newly acquired land. S.1078, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act Amendments, would eliminate the two-part determination process as well as three of
the four exceptions. The Oklahoma exception would not be changed.
"I did this because we believe that the proliferation of proposals by tribes with existing reservations and their developer backers to site casinos off-reservation on lands, to which the tribes often bear no historic relationship, is fostering opposition to all Indian gaming," McCain said at the onset of the hearing.
But Van Norman noted that the two-part determination process is incredibly difficult to complete since only three tribes have won approval for off-reservation casinos in the last 17 years. "So the barn door is not off the hinges," he said at NCAI. He didn't address the use of the other exceptions.
At the hearing, Skibine suggested that some of the controversy is being fueled by rumor and innuendo. Some opposition groups have suggested as many as 40 tribes are seeking off-reservation casinos but he said only 13 have actually submitted applications under the two-part determination.
"Historically, it hasn't been a problem," Skibine testified. He said a "separate list" of tribes seeking casinos under the other IGRA exceptions indicates 11 more applications.
Draft BIA Regulations:Gaming on Lands
Acquired After October 17, 1998
McCain IGRA Bill:Indian
Gaming Regulatory Act Amendments of 2005
Relevant Documents:McCain Floor
(November 18, 2005)
April 27, 2005, Hearing on Regulation of Indian Gaming:Witness
May 18, 2005, Hearing on Taking Land into Trust:Witness
June 28, 2005, Hearing on Regulation of Indian Gaming:Witness
July 27, 2005, Hearing on IGRA exceptions and off-reservation
September 21, 2005, Hearing on Regulation of Class III Gaming:Witness
Senate Indian Affairs Committee - http://indian.senate.gov
Indian Land Determinations - http://www.nigc.gov/nigc/nigcControl?option=LAND_DETERMINATIONS
National Indian Gaming Association - http://www.indiangaming.org