McCain calls for IGRA review, revisions

Gale Courey Toensing
5/25/05

WASHINGTON - Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman John McCain said it's
time for Congress to review and revise the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory
Act (IGRA).

McCain's comment came toward the end of an Indian Affairs committee
oversight hearing May 18 on taking land into trust. Although most land
taken into trust is used by tribes for non-gaming purposes, much of the
hearing focused on the acquisition of off-reservation land for casinos.

Tribal leaders defended their right to follow the lead of tribes that have
created successful gaming operations that benefit tribal members, while
non-Indian witnesses testified about damage to local communities and called
for a moratorium on more land acquisitions for gaming until legislators can
study and revise IGRA.

"That is a dilemma we face," McCain said.

"I strongly agree it's time we reviewed a 17-year-old piece of legislation
and profited from the experiences we've undergone, and make whatever
necessary changes in order to deal [with] an $18.5 billion - and continuing
to grow - industry that none of us ever anticipated would reach this size
when we passed the act in 1988," McCain said.

The "problem" of land acquisition and Indian gaming is "perception to a
large degree, and to some degree reality," McCain said.

"You can't legislate perception, but there may be something we can do to
correct some of the realities," he added.

George Skibine, BIA's acting deputy assistant secretary for Policy and
Economic Development, gave an overview of the complex regulations and
procedures involved in taking land into trust both for gaming and
non-gaming purposes on reservation and off-reservation lands.

IGRA says lands acquired in trust after Oct. 17, 1988 may not be used for
gaming, but there are four exceptions. If a tribe doesn't meet those
exceptions, another route to acquire off-reservation gaming land is the
"two-part determination" which considers both IGRA and additional
requirements.

The two-part process includes consultation with local and state officials
and nearby tribes, environmental compliance, agreements with local
governments concerning jurisdictional issues and the approval of a state
governor, Skibine said.

The process usually involves a court settlement, state legislation and
sometimes congressional legislation; "so by the time one of these
settlements is achieved, it's gone through an incredibly rigorous process,"
Skibine said.

Skibine said the department is seeking a solution to a problem in which
tribes have acquired trust land for non-gaming purposes, then opened a
casino a few years later without any approval from the Interior Department.
This has happened with around 10 tribes, Skibine said.

The department is prohibited from imposing deed restrictions and wouldn't
want to hamstring tribes that might need to change the property use for
economic development purposes, Skibine said.

"But we're unhappy with the fact that there's a lot of tension in the local
community if a change to gaming is made. The local population feels they've
been duped into buying into the process when the ultimate thing is gaming,"
Skibine said.

Committee members also heard from David K. Sprague, chairman of the Gun
Lake Tribe of Dorr, Mich., whose landless tribe was granted federal
recognition in 1999. The tribe is in the final stages of having 147 acres
of land taken into trust.

"As a result of our playing by the rules, the restoration of a homeland for
our tribe has been delayed longer than any other federally recognized tribe
in Michigan," Sprague said.

James T. Martin, executive director of the United South and Eastern Tribes
of Nashville, Tenn., lauded Indian gaming as the best tool to help Indian
nations gain self-sufficiency and reassert their sovereignty.

But current problems in off-reservation gaming are caused by non-Indian
casino developers engaged in "reservation shopping," Martin said.

"Indian gaming must benefit Indian tribes on their own lands, not make
Indian tribes pawns in the hands of developers with dubious professional
experience who want to move Indian governments around the country to
establish casinos in states where these tribes do not now exist," Martin
said.

Mike Jandernoa, a member of "23 is Enough," a grassroots organization
fighting Indian casinos in Michigan, urged the committee to place a
moratorium on land acquisitions.

"IGRA and its associated land [to] trust process is outdated, broken, open
to manipulation by special interests and in desperate need of immediate
reform," Jandernoa said.

Former Crosby, Stills and Nash member David Crosby, who is battling
land-to-trust for gaming in California, argued that problems are caused by
tribes' exemption from compliance with local zoning and other regulations,
and from paying state and local taxes.

"It's unfair to all the other people who live there. I think that's
blatantly obvious," Crosby said.

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