Indian Affairs Hearing Reveals Tribes Oppose Barton Bill and Split on Legalization

November 18, 2011
Indian Affairs Hearing Reveals Tribes Oppose Barton Bill and Split on Legalization

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held their hearing earlier today entitled “Future of Internet Gaming: What’s at Stake for the Tribes.”  The hearing consisted of five panels of witnesses.  Those panels are listed below and comes from the Indian Affairs website:

Panel #  1

Mr. Larry S. Roberts – General Counsel – National Indian Gaming Commission, Washington, DC

Panel #  2

The Honorable Bruce Bozsum – Chairman – The Mohegan Tribe, Uncasville, CT

The Honorable Glen Gobin – Vice Chairman – Tulalip Tribes, Tulalip, WA

Panel #  3

Mr. Ernie Stevens – Chairman – National Indian Gaming Association, Washington, DC

Accompanied by Mr. Mark Van Norman – Senior Advisor – National Indian Gaming Association, Washington, DC

Mr. Alfonse D’Amato – Chairman – Poker Players Alliance, Washington, DC

Accompanied by Mr. John Pappas – Executive Director – Poker Players Alliance, Washington, DC

Ms. Penny Coleman – Principal – Coleman Indian Law, Washington, DC

Mr. Grant W. Eve – CPA, CFE, Manager – Joseph Eve, Great Falls, MT

The following are the highlights of each panel’s testimony:

Highlights of Panel # 1

Roberts was questioned regarding how tribes would handle internet gambling and the NIGC’s position on internet gaming.  Roberts essentially stated on several occasions that as regulators they do not take a stance for or against internet gaming and that they just regulate it.

When asked about regulating internet gaming, Roberts stated that the NIGC is capable of doing so for the tribes, yet they have not been named in any bills currently presented to Congress.

Roberts also told the Senators that some tribes are for internet gaming and some are against it.

Highlights of Panel #2

Bozsum stated that internet gaming provides both a challenge and an opportunity for the tribes.  However, he then said that the Mohegan Indians want only a Federal solution to legislation and not a state solution like the one being drawn up in Vegas.  They feel this gives Vegas an unfair advantage and that the playing field should be level.

Next, Bozsum stated that any legislation must explicitly authorize tribes to accept bets from off the reservations or it would run afoul of the Indian Gaming Regulator Act (IGRA).   They also are pushing for online poker to be legalized first.

Gobin started off with stating the importance of the IGRA and that it provides $26.5 Billion a year for the US, not just the tribes.  He also clearly stated from the Tulialip Tribe in Washington State that “We do not support legislation that legalizes online gaming.”  In addition, if gaming does occurs, tribes must be able to voice their concerns.  He also stated that he felt that the Tulialip tribes did not have the name recognition to compete.

Senator Daniel Akaka, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, pointed out that the current law did not allow tribes to regulate and operate internet gaming.  When asked if Bozsum if they have the ability to, he stated that the Mohegans have proven the ability to run such gaming while supporting the federal regulatory scheme.

He also stated that he would prefer Federal regulated online gaming over state regulated. Lastly, he stated that if tribes were to form a coalition, they could be more powerful than Caesars Entertainment.

Highlights of Panel #3

Stevens opens stating that NIGA is opposed to the Barton bill.  Testimony is shifted to D’Amato who talks about the number of players in America playing online poker.  He believes that the Indian nation is ready and could be easily included without reinventing the wheel.  He also testified that he feels that state legislation will not work well because there would not be enough people playing, and federal legislation would be better.

Amato agreed with the sentiments of Bozsum that if tribes were to band together, they could compete with any gaming corporate entity.  He also agreed that tribes should be able to keep their rights and not be forced to change their existing policies for internet poker.

What’s Next?

After the panels concluded their testimony and answered questions, Senator Akaak stated that there will be future hearings to discuss the points brought up today.  He stated that “The whole reason for this is to come to legislation that will be in the best interests of all concerned.”

From the testimony today, it does appear that the tribes are split as to whether internet gaming should be legal.  However, there is hope for poker as at least the Mohegan tribes support online poker.

At the same time, it appears that if the tribes come on board, they want to do so tax free and be in charge of their own gaming.  This could be a sticking point that could continue to cause hangups in online poker legislation.  Perhaps the Mohegans can find a way to work with the other tribe and maybe even form the coalition they mentioned in the tribe to assure that everyone has an equal footing moving forward.


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