Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne administers the oath of office to Norman DesRosiers while National Indian Gaming Commissioner Chairman Phil Hogen looks on. March 15, 2007. Photo © NSM.
The National Indian Gaming Commission completed its team on
Thursday with the addition of a longtime tribal casino regulator
to the roster.
At a ceremony in Washington, D.C., Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne
swore in Norm DesRosiers as an associate vice commissioner.
The move completes the makeup of the NIGC, which had gone without
a third member for more than a year.
But the wait was worth it, Kempthorne told a small audience of tribal
leaders, Washington lawyers and NIGC staff. He said he was proud
to induct "somebody of Norm's caliber, who comes to us with
15 years of pragmatic experience in tribal gaming."
Phil Hogen, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota
who serves as chairman of the NIGC, agreed.
He said DesRosiers, who has worked for the Viejas Band of
Kumeyaay Indians in California and the San Carlos Apache Tribe
of Arizona, brings a "wealth of experience at the tribal level."
"That insight probably has been a little lacking on our end,"
said Hogen, a former U.S. Attorney from South Dakota.
"We are so glad to have a full team," added Hogen, who
has been at the NIGC since December 2002.
Chuck Choney, a member of the Comanche Nation who serves
as vice chair of the NIGC, said federal regulators have
gotten to know their new colleague very well over the years.
DesRosiers has been a frequent witness on Capitol Hill
on crucial matters affecting the $23 billion tribal casino
"For him to be a member of the commission is a definite asset,"
said Choney, a former FBI agent. Choney said DesRosiers
is respected among tribal and Indian gaming leaders.
DesRosiers admitted he was lured away from a high-profile
and comfortable job in southern California.
But as a decorated Vietnam veteran, he said he jumped
at the chance to serve two countries -- the United States
and Indian Country.
"Undoubtedly, for me personally and professionally,
this is the highlight of my life," said DesRosiers,
whose appointment fulfills a provision of the
Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that at least one member of
the NIGC be a non-Indian.
With DesRosiers on board, the agency has a lot of issues
on its plate. One involves the NIGC's authority to
regulate Class III gaming such as slot machines and
Hogen has asked Congress to increase NIGC's powers in light of
a court case that said IGRA left Class III gaming to
tribes and states through the compacting process.
In testimony to Congress, DesRosiers supported
the tribal role in regulation.
"It's us that that call in the Department of Justice," he testified in April 2005. It's us
that call in to find the improprieties, to find the thefts, embezzlement, the
scams, the cheats."
At the hearing, DesRosiers said he had "no objection" to state
or federal officials coming in to check on tribal casinos.
But he urged Congress to move with caution on any legislation
that amends IGRA, which was passed in 1988.
On another hot issue, DesRosiers spoke out against
the NIGC's proposal to redefine Class II games
such as bingo and pull tabs.
Earlier this year, Hogen withdraw the rules amid
widespread tribal opposition.
At a different hearing, DesRosiers said NIGC's proposal
would only lead to "whole lot more opportunities for litigation."
The agency is planning to take a new approach to the
rules, Hogen has said.
In his comments yesterday, Kempthorne praised Indian
Country for expanding opportunities through gaming.
He commended tribes "for the benefits that your tribal
members receive [and] that others in your surrounding
Kempthorne didn't talk about off-reservation gaming,
which he opposed as governor of Idaho.
Although those decisions mainly rest with the BIA,
the NIGC plays a role in determining the legality of
casino sites, and was recently rebuked by a federal court
for failing to do so with respect to an off-reservation
casino in New York.
National Indian Gaming Commission - http://www.nigc.gov
National Indian Gaming Association - http://www.indiangaming.org