Internet gaming will be a hot topic at the Indian Gaming 2012 Tradeshow & Convention, the annual meeting of the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA). Taking place at the San Diego Convention Center from April 1 to 4, the gathering is filled with golf tournaments, training, workshops, membership meetings, breakout sessions, networking and business opportunities, award ceremonies and a massive gaming trade show. The evenings will offer receptions, banquets, music and entertainment. In recent years, the convention has attracted more than 4,000 attendees.
We spoke to NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. for a preview:
What are the top three issues to be discussed at this year’s NIGA and where does Internet gaming fit in the list of priorities?
The top three issues are Internet gaming, IRS taxation of cultural benefits, and the NIGC’s regulatory review process.
I would hesitate to say that any are more important than the others. But certainly Internet gaming is being talked about more and for good reason. We are resolute that Internet legislation must protect the rights of tribal sovereignty and preserve the integrity of IGRA. That brings us to another hot topic, which is taxation within those rights. Tribes are experiencing intrusion on their cultural affairs by IRS tax agents. The IRS is auditing the educational benefits and tribal cultural activities provided by tribal governments to individual tribal citizens. We are working with NCAI and our regional tribal organizations, such as the Great Plains Indian Gaming Association, to address the IRS’s intrusion. Additionally, we are working with our friends in Congress, such as Congressman Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) and Senator Daniel Kahikina Akaka (D-Hawaii), to move legislation that would mandate the IRS respect tribal cultural affairs as official governmental activities.
On Thursday, the NIGC will hold an all-day consultation at the convention center. This will be its last consultation before issuing a new round of regulations for tribal review. This consultation will be of equal importance to tribal leaders who cannot always make it to D.C. to meet with the NIGC. We are happy to accommodate the NIGC, as well as Congress, so that our tribal leaders have one more avenue of access to key decision-makers.
Are there new events this year?
We are excited about the congressional interest shown in our trade show. On Wednesday, we will hold a congressional and tribal leaders listening session on Internet gaming. We have several congressmen confirmed, and the meeting will be led by Congresswoman Mary Bono-Mack (R-California). Holding a congressional listening session is a first at NIGA and we realize the importance that the Internet gaming issue has on industry. Not every tribal leader can come to Washington, D.C. and testify before committees. So we wanted to bring the congressional folks to our trade show, where there will be ample opportunity for tribal leaders to voice their opinions to them.
How many people do you expect?
Right now we have over 3,500 registered, including attendees and vendors. On average, though, we host over 5,000 guests each year, and with the economy improving, we might just exceed that average.
Who should attend and why?
We are hosting over 120 seminars. If you are a tribal gaming commissioner or regulator, this conference is the only gaming conference geared toward your profession and concerns. Our membership meetings on Monday and Tuesday are designed to provide tribal leaders and tribal government officials with the latest updates from Washington D.C. and how federal policy is impacting your tribal community. Not only do we have industry-specific seminars, but we have an exciting trade show and I’m proud to announce that we’ve completely filled our 90,000-square-foot floor room with over 400 exhibitors. You have to see the latest technology that is available for the gaming industry and meet some great established and emerging Native-owned businesses. So really, if you are a tribal leader, tribal gaming official, or Indian gaming professional, this trade show is a can’t-miss event for you.
What else should we know?
Our headline entertainment this year is Dwight Yoakam. He has agreed to interrupt his movie schedule to perform, so we are all really excited to hear him play at the Wendell Chino Banquet on Tuesday night. In addition, we will have a great day of golf on Sunday at two of our member tribes’ top-rated golf courses. The Sycuan and Barona Band of Indians will host this year’s golf tournaments. At the end of the day Sunday, our chairman’s welcome reception will be at the U.S.S. Midway in San Diego Harbor from 6:30 to midnight. We are excited about this venue, and even though American Idol beat us to the punch a little by holding their show on the Midway after the Super Bowl, we think it will be an awesome experience. This event is sponsored entirely by Rocket Gaming Systems. We will have two bands performing that night on the Midway, plus an honoring ceremony for Native veterans. Shuttles will be running all night from the hotels. So please, don’t miss this opportunity to spend some free time on such icon of American history.