The outgoing leader of the National Indian Gaming Commission
said on Tuesday he is encouraging the incoming administration
to maintain the agency's independence.
NIGC Chairman Phil Hogen, a member of the Oglala Sioux
of South Dakota,
has served as the federal government's top Indian gaming regulator since December 2002.
"I've probably overstayed my welcome," he said at the
Global Gaming Expo
in Las Vegas.
Hogen doesn't know how long he will stay on the job once Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th
president of the United States on January 20, 2009. But it's possible it will be months
before his replacement completes the nomination and confirmation process.
"I certainly stand ready to hand the baton off," Hogen told attendees
of the conference.
Until the situation changes,
Hogen has been identifying
key issues for Obama's transition team. His biggest concern is
ensuring that NIGC remains an independent agency
as envisioned by the Indian
Gaming Regulatory Act
"I'm deeply concerned that [NIGC's independence] not be infringed upon,"
Hogen works closely with other federal officials and agencies on gaming
But he said he has tried to protect NIGC from interference
at the Department of the Interior
, where gaming has received
a chilly reception from Secretary Dirk Kempthorne
Hogen pointed out that IGRA requires at
least two of the three NIGC members to be Indian.
Having someone at Interior
"that's not necessarily an Indian" review the NIGC's
decisions isn't something he is willing to accept.
"I think that's a step in the wrong direction," Hogen said.
Hogen didn't elaborate but it's widely known that NIGC
and top officials at Interior have clashed over a key aspect
of IGRA. Both sides claim authority to issue Indian land
determinations, which are used to determine whether
a tribe can engage in gaming at a particular site.
During a panel on Monday,
Paula Hart, a senior gaming official at the Bureau of Indian Affairs
, described the clash as a "big dispute" that emerged
over the past couple of years -- right around Kempthorne's arrival
She said neither side appears to be ceding ground on
"We've tried to stay out of that," said Hart, a member of
the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe
of New York.
In at least two recent cases, the NIGC has allowed tribes to engage
in gaming through decisions that Interior officials, privately,
have said they will not accept.
One has led to a lawsuit by the states of Nebraska and Iowa over
the Ponca Tribe
's proposed casino in Iowa.
Another case involves the Poarch Band of Creek Indians
After Hogen said the tribe could continue operating its casino,
Kempthorne asked him for a meeting to discuss the land determinations dispute,
though nothing concrete appears to have emerged from the debate.
Despite Hogen's insistence on independence, whoever holds the title of
Secretary of the Interior will play a key role in shaping the NIGC.
While the NIGC chairman position is subject to Senate confirmation,
the other two posts are nominated by the Interior secretary.
There have been no hints from the Obama camp as to people being
considered for Interior secretary or the NIGC chairman.
Tradition dictates that the Interior secretary be nominated,
confirmed and sworn in before other Interior political posts
Global Gaming Expo continues today with panels
on IGRA, tribal financing and investors in Indian Country. The conference concludes on Thursday.
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