Jonodev Osceola Chaudhuri recently appointed chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission: “We believe in fiscal responsibility and for the second year in a row we’ve reduced gaming fees.”

It’s Official: Jonodev Chaudhuri Confirmed As Chair of NIGC

Gale Courey Toensing

After a year-and-a-half in the dual role of acting chairman and vice chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission, Jonodev Osceola Chaudhuri was confirmed by the Senate to serve as chairman of the gaming regulatory agency for a three-year term. The confirmation took place April 16 with unanimous support.

Both the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs applauded Chaudhuri’s confirmation. The committee held two hearings on his nomination, the last one in late March.

“I am pleased to see Mr. Chaudhuri confirmed quickly by the full Senate,” SCIA Chairman John Barrasso  (R-WY). “I believe he will be an excellent chairman who serves with integrity and ensures accountability at the commission,”

“Mr. Chaudhuri is a proven leader and he will continue to do important work as the Chair of the National Indian Gaming Commission,” SCIA Vice Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) said. “I thank him for his patience during this confirmation process.”

Chaudhuri, an enrolled member of the Muskogee Nation, comes to the job as chairman with extensive policy, legal, and judicial experience as a lawyer, tribal nations judge, community organizer, adjunct professor, and author. Before coming to the NIGC, Chaudhuri served as Senior Counselor to the Interior Department Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin K.  Washburn, providing guidance and assistance on a wide range of national policy issues, including Indian gaming, economic development, energy, Alaska affairs, and tribal recognition. More information about him is available here.

The NIGC is responsible for regulating the more than 450 Indian gaming facilities, associated with nearly 242 tribes, across 28 states ICTMN first interviewed Chaudhuri in November 2013 soon after Interior Department Secretary designated Chaudhuri as NIGC acting chairman. We spoke to him again recently about the NIGC’s achievements and challenges.

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The last time we spoke you said the most challenging work was ahead was to continue developing consultation and relationship building with tribes and tribal regulators: How have you progressed on consultation and relationship building?

Our consultation policy and the way we’ve implemented it is something we’re very proud of as an agency. Being consistent with longstanding federal policy and executive orders is just a practical efficient way to go about fulfilling our mission. We not only respect our regulatory partners in the field – and those partners include over 5,400 tribal gaming regulators who under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) are the primary regulators of Indian gaming – we recognize the benefit of working with them in a cooperative fashion so that as much information as possible is shared between regulatory partners. So we’re proud of our policy and the way we’ve implemented it and we believe our policy has led to increase clarity and stability in Indian gaming. One of my personal beliefs is in addition to active and meaningful consultation with tribes and tribal regulators, as an agency we should do whatever we can to actively review and process the information received. We want to address past consultations before moving on because the last thing I want to do is cause consultation fatigue among tribes and tribal regulators.

What consultations have you conducted?

Last year we consulted on technology and the gaming industry as well as the applicability of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to our approval process. So in keeping with that philosophy of acting on the information we previously received to the best of our ability, we looked at the comments we received both on technology and on the NEPA and we’ve taken active steps to implement some of the comments we received. On the technology side we recognize the need for a unified vision throughout the agency – technology that applies to all aspects and operations the agency performs, As a result we recently formed a Division of Technology led by a director, who will lend his or her voice to our senior leadership discussions to help formulate how technology will inform all of our functions. We recognize that technology is important when it comes to regulatory reviews, to our obligation to provide up to date regulations, our oversight authority in terms of assurance of ongoing compliance with IGRA, our understanding of the technology of the gaming machines and the new offerings that become available. On NEPA we’ve looked at the option of considering a categorical exception or exclusion that says for management agreements that come to the agency we will conduct an initial review to ensure there aren’t any unusual circumstances that would require an environmental assessment. [Another] I’m really, really, really excited about is a buy Indian initiative. We call it BIGS – buy Indian goods and services. We looked at ourselves as an agency and asked ourselves why don’t we have this in place? We work with the tribal l regulated community – it just makes sense. [A fourth initiative is guidance for Class III Minimum Internal Control Standards (MICS).]

One of NIGC’s big accomplishments was to revise the regulations for self-regulation. Do you see Class III regulations ever moving toward tribal self regulation?

When I joined the commission I was very excited to have the opportunity to implement some of the recently adopted regulatory changes that had been made regarding Class II self-regulation. IGRA provides an avenue for qualified tribes to achieve a certificate of self-regulation if certain statutory criteria are met. For tribes that are able to obtain a certificate, it’s a strong extension of their efforts toward self-determination and sovereignty. IGRA provides that mechanism and our new regulations implement it.  I’ve been honored in my time at NIGC to have played a role in approving the first tribal submission made under our new regulations – by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. There’s no similar provision in IGRA for class III self-regulation. There would have to be statutory changes made to IGRA for self-regulation to take place.

There’s a set of priorities and principles that are all consistent with IGRA, priorities that apply to everything we do whether it’s regulatory, administrative, and operational:

1. Continued performance of all oversight duties.

2. Ongoing commitment to training technical assistance and meaningful tribal consultation.

3. Staying ahead of the technology curve.

4. Supporting a strong regulatory workforce both at NIGC and among our regulatory partners.

5. Strengthening dialogue and relationships with all relevant stakeholders.

As I apply those priorities I’m guided by some pretty specific principles:

Addressing and mitigating those activities that jeopardize Indian gaming and the valuable self-determination tool that it represents.

Swiftly acting on anything that jeopardizes the health and safety of the public at gaming establishments including patrons and employees.

Engaging in sound regulations without stymying the entrepreneurial spirit of tribes.

And protecting against anything that amounts to gamesmanship on the backs of tribes.

Looking back at your time as acting chair ahead, what are you most pleased about accomplishing?

I’m very happy that our operations over the last 18 months have continued to move without a hitch despite the lack of a confirmed chair and being in the midst of a building move and major transition. The reason is we have a phenomenal team here at NIGC that consist of the best professionals I’ve had the honor to work with.

Not only have we kept up our commitment to consultation and training and technical assistance, we’ve ratcheted it up to historic levels over the last 18 months and we’re on pace to break the record this year. At the same time, we continue to be sound stewards of the funds we receive from gaming operations. We believe in fiscal responsibility and for the second year in a row we’ve reduced gaming fees. And not only have we put pen to paper on previous consultations we’re actively seeking more input from tribes and the tribal regulatory community to continue to improve our performance and our mission.

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