With states readying for online gambling, tribes want stake, protection of sovereignty
WASHINGTON - With some states readying to start online gambling, Native American tribal leaders are calling on the federal government to step in as it did with brick-and-mortar gambling and establish regulations that ensure tribes get a piece of the action without having their revenue taxed and their sovereignty compromised.
A new set of regulations is unlikely before this year's election, but recent events have given momentum to efforts to launch online gambling in some states. Since a December 2011 Department of Justice opinion that not all Internet gambling is banned by federal law, Delaware has legalized online gambling and Nevada is closing in on making online poker possible. New Jersey, too, is working to make it a reality.
Some tribes worry if regulation is left to states, it will be a patchwork of rules that aren't considerate of the relationship Native Americans have with the federal government.
"Tribes should be extremely hesitant to entrust their economic futures to the tender mercies of the 50 states, many of whom are still in financial crises and looking for new sources of revenue," Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum said Thursday in testimony before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Bozsum is chairman of the Mohegan Tribe of Uncasville, Conn., which has large casino operations.
Bozsum said his tribe has invested a "great deal of time" preparing Internet gambling regulations. "These regulations now stand ready to be implemented, and will meet or exceed the toughest regulations found anywhere in the world, including the new standards recently established in Nevada," Bozsum said.
According to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, tribal gambling was a more than $27 billion industry in 2011, while commercial gambling was $35.6 billion and worldwide gambling revenues were $30 billion.
Glen Gobin, secretary of the Tulalip Tribal Council, reminded the committee that he previously testified against legalizing Internet gambling. But on Thursday, Gobin said that with states ready to start their own Internet gambling, "tribes must have equal footing to participate."
Gobin said his tribe, in Tulalip, Wash., plans to move forward as gambling evolves because the revenue pays for many of the tribe's government services. The Tulalip do not have regulations ready because tribes' participation has not been decided.
"To say we are ready for the full regulatory aspect, we are not, but I have full confidence we have the capabilities," Gobin said.
Jon Porter, a lobbyist for the Poker Players Alliance, urged tribes to get prepared because online gambling "has to happen."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., have been working on online gambling legislation. Kyl is a previous opponent of online gambling. On Wednesday, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee spelled out how the federal government could regulate online gambling so tribes are protected and included at a meeting of tribal leaders for the National Indian Gaming Association's Legislative Summit on Wednesday.
"We in Congress — and especially on this committee — also have a responsibility to ensure that tribal views and priorities are part of any legislation that could impact tribal gaming," said committee chairman Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii.
Also Thursday, the Senate voted to move forward on cybersecurity legislation, intended to protect U.S. computer systems and infrastructure from cyberattacks. But if the bill moves forward and ultimately passes the Senate, it still would need to be reconciled with a House version. Little other legislation has moved through Congress, making it more likely that any movement on Internet legislation would happen after elections in the lame-duck session.