Right now, the National Indian Gaming Association is hosting its 2012 summer Legislative Summit in Washington, DC. Over 260 tribal leaders will attend the two-day event at the Rasmuson Theater in the National Museum of the American Indian and at the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Building.
During the Summit, NIGA’s Member Tribes will meet face-to-face with Members of Congress and their policy advisors who are involved in the federal Internet gaming debate. Tribal leaders will give the congressmen a real time update from Indian Country about their views on federal Internet gaming legislation as well as the many other current issues of interest to tribal communities. And this year, we have many.
However, NIGA’s Membership will focus most of its attention on the debate surrounding federal legislative proposals to legalize Internet gaming in the United States.
This debate took a sharp turn in December of 2011 when the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) made public its reinterpreted legal opinion on the Wire Act, concluding that “interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a ‘sporting event of contest’ fall outside the reach of the Wire Act.” DOJ found that the Wire Act does not bar the intrastate Internet lotteries proposed by the states of Illinois and New York, which asked for the opinion.
The DOJ opinion opens possible Internet gaming expansion for both tribal and state governments. Because many difficult legal questions remain, no jurisdiction has yet moved beyond selling lottery tickets over the Internet. However, both Nevada and Delaware have moved forward with authorizing legislation that enables those states to offer games other than lottery tickets over the Internet.
This debate holds great importance to the 247 tribal governments that have used revenues generated from Indian gaming to rebuild our communities. Indian tribes in 26 states from across a wide section of Indian country use gaming revenues to rebuild community infrastructure, educate Native children, improve health care for our elders, enhance public safety, and much more.
In 2010 alone, Indian gaming was responsible for $86 billion in total economic output, which includes 706,000 American jobs, and $29.2 billion in wages. The jobs data includes 306,000 direct jobs ($12.6 billion in wages), 140,000 indirect jobs (6.3 billion in wages), and 260,000 induced jobs ($10.2 billion in wages).
Indian gaming revenues have also saved thousands of American jobs outside of Indian Country. A June 2011 National Public Radio report, titled “Casino Revenue Helps Tribes Aid Local Governments,” acknowledged that revenue from the Stillaguamish Tribe of Washington helped prevent additional layoffs at the local Everett, Washington prosecutor’s office. The article also noted to the $1.3 million that the Tulalip Tribes recently gave to the local school district after they heard about possible budget cuts and teacher layoffs. These same scenarios are taking place in more than a hundred local jurisdictions throughout the United States, saving thousands of jobs for American health care workers, fire fighters, police officers, and many other local officials that provide essential services to children, elders, and others.
As governments, acknowledged in the U.S. Constitution, Indian tribes are not directly taxed. However, Indian gaming generates $12.5 billion annually in federal, state, and local tax revenue, and an additional $1.5 billion in direct payments to federal, state, and local governments in the form of payments to defray regulatory costs, revenue sharing, and other cooperative agreements.
So as you can see, there is much at stake to not only Indian country, but the Nation as a whole in the federal debate to legalize Internet gaming.
In the face of the DOJ Wire Act opinion, NIGA’s Member Tribes and our legislative partner, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), remain committed to protecting tribal sovereignty in any Internet gaming legislation that moves forward.
Our consensus position requires that Internet legislation must: protect tribal sovereignty, preserve the integrity of IGRA and existing gaming compacts, provide tribes with equal access to the new industry, and treat tribes as governments—exempting potential tribal Internet gaming revenue from taxation. Tribal gaming revenues are 100% taxed, as all funds are required by federal law to fund health, education, public safety, and general care programs.
Current bills introduced in the House of Representatives do not meet the principles endorsed by tribal governments. These bills have received several hearings in the Fall of 2011, but have stalled to date in 2012. NIGA and our Member Tribes have consistently visited with a broad group of Members of Congress, and it remains Tribal Leaders hope that any directive to Internet legislation adheres to the principles stated above.
In less than 25 years under IGRA, tribal governments have made great strides in making the policy of self-determination work to heal the harms inflicted by more than a century of failed federal policies to assimilate and decimate tribal life. However, as everyone in Indian Country knows, we have much work to do. Now is not the time to undercut this success.
NIGA and our Member Tribes will use this important week of our Legislative Summit to continue to educate all Members of Congress and remain vigilant throughout the year until the final bell tolls on the 112th Congress. Members of Congress are asking for more tribal guidance on Internet gaming and during this year’s summit, we will have something to tell them.
NIGA, established in 1985, is a non-profit organization of 184 Indian Nations with other non-voting associate members representing tribes and businesses engaged in tribal gaming enterprises from around the country.
The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will also host an oversight hearing on “Regulation of Tribal Gaming: From Brick & Mortar to the Internet” on Thursday July 26, 2012.