To an outsider, and maybe even to an insider, the issue of tribal gaming in the United States can be confusing. For a start each state must hammer out its own deal (compact) for Class III gaming with the Indian nation(s) within its borders. When the federal law was passed that allowed tribes to operate gaming as sovereign nations on their reservations, no one could have predicted that the original gambling shacks would become the billion dollar casino resorts of the future. Indian gaming was seen as a means to allow the tribes, still very much disadvantaged in modern America, to make money for the education and welfare of their people.
The National Indian Gaming Association was established in 1985 as a non-profit organization with a commitment to advance economically, socially and politically the lives of Indian peoples. At the beginning of December this year it published a report showing that Indian gaming has a strong support base among the general public, which sees gaming as a favourable way to make Native Americans more self-reliant. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was enacted in 1988 to establish the jurisdictional framework governing Indian gaming and the regulatory schemes for the three classes of gaming.
Today Indian gaming generates revenue in excess of that of Las Vegas and Atlantic City combined, and as some of the tribes grow richer and more powerful, with a louder political voice, so has the controversy over tribal gaming and sovereign jurisdiction increased. Differences of opinion between states and tribes frequently end up in courts, where some rulings have added to the general confusion. Legislation was approved this week aimed at clarifying jurisdiction over criminal cases, allowing federal and state authorities to try cases of crimes committed on private land within Indian boundaries.
Arguments over issues such as labour relations, land-into-trust and perceived corruption rage on unabated – there are huge amounts of money at stake. The National Labor Relations Board is presently considering whether federal labour laws apply to sovereign Indian nations after the Seneca Niagara Casino fired two employees. Land into trust, where the federal government sets aside land for exclusive tribal use free from all local taxes and laws, is a complicated and lengthy business. Requests by tribes for land to be put into trust, such as the case of the Oneida Indian Nation, are usually fought fiercely by local governments.
The ongoing Abramoff scandal, being called ‘Tonto’s Revenge’ in the San Francisco Chronicle, has led to investigations into ‘democracy for sale’ that threaten the topmost echelons of government and sully the reputations of the supposedly morally superior. Further down the scale of national importance are disputes over fuel taxation and local smoking regulations. At any time and on any day Indian sovereignty and gaming rights will be under litigation in more than a few places around the United States.
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