U.S. SENATE – Nearly 25 years following the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) held a hearing today to examine the current state of tribal gaming. Congress passed IGRA in 1988 to regulate gaming on Indian lands.
“Indian gaming has come a long way in the 25 years since IGRA was enacted,” Tester said. “While gaming is not a cure-all for the challenges facing Indian Country, it has provided numerous benefits to the communities who operate successful facilities. We need to make sure all tribal nations can determine the best possible future for their people, whether that’s gaming or not.”
Indian gaming is conducted in 28 states by 43 percent of the 566 federally recognized tribes. Tribal governments employ nearly 6,000 gaming regulators and States employ approximately 570 regulators. At the federal level, the National Indian Gaming Commission employs more than 100 regulators and related staff members.
Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary Indian Affairs, at the Department of the Interior, assessed the current state of Indian gaming. “We frequently face a misperception that tribes are acquiring land and opening gaming facilities at a fast pace. The growth numbers alone belie this argument. Of the over 1,700 successful trust acquisitions processed since the beginning of the Obama administration in 2009, fewer than 15 were for gaming purposes and even fewer were for off-reservation gaming purposes.”
Michell Hicks, Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians spoke of the transformation his tribe experienced due to successful gaming operations. “The Cherokee Preservation Foundation, funded by gaming revenues to create new businesses and initiatives, has contributed a leveraged impact of about $99 million for additional social improvements, environmental enhancements, workforce development, and cultural preservation in the region. With gaming dollars, the tribe spent $5 million on a downtown revitalization project, $13 million on affordable housing, and $20 million on a new justice center.”
National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernest Stevens said, “Nationwide, Indian gaming is a proven job creator. Indian gaming delivered over 665,000 direct and indirect American jobs in 2013 alone. Indian gaming has provided many Native Americans with their first opportunity at work at home on the reservation. Just as importantly, jobs on the reservation generated by Indian gaming are bringing back entire families that had moved away.”
A. T. Stafne, Chairman of Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of Fort Peck, noted that despite the success of many gaming operations, gaming has not been the economic solution for all tribes. “Despite the success of some tribes, Indian gaming has provided little benefit to many tribes. Geographical location is a barrier for economic development of any kind, and certainly Indian gaming is not immune from geographical limitations.”
Senator Tester reiterated his commitment to tribal sovereignty and self-governance and noted that Indian gaming has made a substantial difference for many tribes. He is monitoring ongoing research on the state of Indian gaming from the Government Accountability Office.
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) was enacted in 1988 to provide a statutory basis for the regulation of gaming on Indian lands. The Act established the following three classes of gaming:
• Class I gaming consists of social gaming solely for nominal prizes or traditional gaming played in connection with tribal ceremonies or celebrations and is regulated solely by tribes and not subject to IGRA.
• Class II gaming includes bingo, pull-tabs, punch boards, and certain card games and is regulated by the tribes and the Commission.
• Class III gaming includes all other forms of gaming, including casino games and slot machines, and although both Interior and the Commission play a role in overseeing certain aspects of Class III gaming, it is regulated by the tribes and the states pursuant to compacts.
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