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Bits and Pieces from Indian Country – February 2006

12 April 2006

Jack Abramoff is still the major story, inside Indian country and outside, too - not that there is much change in the actual case, but the fallout from it continues to spread. The fallout has hit nearly every state as politicians accuse each other of corruption and false deeds. Democrats accuse republicans of accepting his favors and fulfilling his nefarious wishes, and republicans accuse democrats of the same. The accusations are platforms for political campaigns and more significantly platforms for new legislation at both the state and federal levels.

At the federal level, new legislation is being introduced to limit lobbyists' activities, and at both the state and federal level, legislation is being introduced to limit and control Indian gaming. What you might ask did the tribes do to deserve the direct attacks on gaming? Not much would be my answer; most were simply victims of a corrupt, unscrupulous individual. Senator Tim Johnson, a Democrat from South Dakota, has said as much. This isn't, according to Johnson, a tribal scandal - it is a lobbying scandal.

As both vice chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee and a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I have been absolutely appalled at the scope and the depth of the villainy associated with the Abramoff lobbying scandal. Inasmuch as Washington recently has become consumed and distracted by the utterly shameful actions of disgraced lobbyist, I believe that it is essential to understand just how far removed from this scandal Indian tribes are. While a small handful of tribes represented by Abramoff were victimized by his incredibly shady and cynical manipulation of their funds, the vast majority of our nation's 562 tribes and Alaska Native villages had nothing to do with him or his practices. …While a few tribes were associated with Abramoff, the fees they paid were far beyond what most tribes could possibly afford - and, in the end, their hired lobbyist abused both their money and their trust. Clearly, this scandal was a lobbying scandal, not a tribal scandal. Sen. Tim Johnson, Democrat - South Dakota, Indian Country Today, 1-27-06

However, there are those who have been watching for an opportunity to press their cause - limiting and controlling Indian gaming. And those people have not wasted the opportunity that Abramoff provided. Many states, California, Wisconsin and Washington among them, have state legislators using the Abramoff scandal to push for new legislation limiting Indian gaming. The opponents of Indian gaming leap easily from a corrupt lobbyist to a corrupt industry. This editorial from the Lansing State Journal makes the case much better than I could and demonstrates the intensity of the emotions on their side of the issue.

Federal Indian gaming laws are broken, outdated, and being manipulated by special interests to the extent that our federal government is embroiled in the biggest scandal in recent history. Lansing State Journal, 1-29-06

Proliferation of tribal gaming is running roughshod over states' rights, local control and voter mandate. This virtually unregulated industry is leeching jobs and jeopardizing the future of our already battered state economy. Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, has recognized this and called for a two-year moratorium on all new tribal gaming until investigations are complete and federal laws are reformed to protect the integrity of our government and public interests. Lansing State Journal, 1-29-06

Whether Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff thwarted or promoted tribal casinos is not the issue. His actions show that our federal laws have been exploited and corrupted. Abramoff was not the only hired gun in Washington manipulating Congress on behalf of tribal gaming interests, just the first to get caught. With this $19 billion industry spending millions on political donations and teams of lobbyists and lawyers, it certainly raises the question: How widespread is the corruption? Lansing State Journal, 1-29-06

Washington's American Indian tribes would need the Legislature's blessing before seeking off-reservation casinos under an influential state senator's proposal. Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, sought the measure after an aborted compact with the Spokane Tribe of Indians called for a casino on tribal trust land about 25 miles from its reservation. Curt Woodward, Associated Press, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1-26-06

Congress is going to rewrite the Indian gaming act; that is a foregone conclusion. Again, it is a difficult leap of logic to follow; why the corruptness of a lobbyist or two should require such an extreme measure. Actually, before the full furry of the scandal hit, there were hearings already taking place and a great deal of pressure on Congress to limit off-reservation casinos and limit the types of games tribes could offer without state approval. Wesley Edmo of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of Idaho articulated the tribal view of this process very well.

"Every time, heaven forbid, some type of economic freedom and democracy might break out in Indian Country, the playing field gets a little bit, you know, slanted back towards the Indians and all of a sudden the rug gets jerked out from under us," said Wesley Edmo, a council member for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of Idaho. Indianz News, 1-16-06

The Bush administration is moving forward with its controversial gaming legislation despite overwhelming opposition from Indian Country. After just three meetings, the Department of Justice is closing the comment period on the proposal to amend the Johnson Act at the end of this month. Officials will then review the comments, make changes and search for a Capitol Hill sponsor to introduce the bill by March or April…The swift action, coming three months after the legislation was unveiled to the public and four months after it was announced in Las Vegas, brought criticism from tribal leaders and their representatives. At the conference, they repeatedly blasted the administration, saying the proposal would dramatically hurt the $19 billion Indian gaming industry and the jobs, revenues and other benefits casinos have generated. Indianz News, 1-16-06

There are other federal law changes that most certain are a direct result of the scandal. The most resent to surface has to do with election contributions by tribes - that too was an issue simmering just waiting for a catalyst to bring it to a boil. When the tribes were poor and had no political influence, no one paid much attention to their political contributions. But in the last few years the contributions have grown dramatically as has the influence of tribes in both national and local elections. There are those that resent that influence and would stop it.

From total giving of $676,450 for the 1994 elections, tribal contributions grew to $8.6 million for 2004 races, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. A little-known quirk in campaign-finance law that has helped Indian tribes increase their political clout is under scrutiny amid a scandal involving a high-profile lobbyist and his tribal clients. House Republicans plan this week to propose closing a loophole that has allowed tribes with casinos to give substantial amounts to members of Congress. The change is part of a bill being drafted by Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., to restrict lobbyist influence in the wake of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal…The growth in tribal political giving has been helped by the status tribes enjoy under federal-campaign finance law. Tribes are "persons" under the law, a category that also includes partnerships, corporations and associations. But tribes can give unlimited total amounts because they are not "individuals," whose legal definition excludes organized groups. Jim Drinkard, USA Today, 1-31-06

Even in Indian country, the scandal is having its effects. Some tribes and some tribal leaders are acting much like the republicans and democrats and trying to distance themselves from Abramoff and his activities. The chairman of Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians apologized to all of Indian country for the damage the scandal may cause. The apology was noble, but it won't help and the tribe didn't do anything except hire a lobbyist - a perfectly normal way to do business in Washington. Any business, industry, individual or indeed state that wishes to influence federal legislation does exactly the same. It is the normal and legitimate way business is done in the nation's capital. Tony Miranda suggests now that tribes should do their own lobbying, directly.

The chairman of a Southern California Indian tribe that gave $10 million to indicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff apologized to other tribal leaders for the ensuing scandal that has tainted many tribes. Richard Milanovich, chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, said Wednesday that tribal officials had only good intentions when they hired Abramoff. He told delegates at the Western Indian Gaming Conference that fallout from the scandal already is hurting the image of tribes…"It really pains me. It hurts me to know that the fallout from that (scandal) is affecting all of us in Indian Country, not just our tribe," Milanovich said. "I apologize to each and every one of you and to all of your people for it happening, and I know that other tribes also regret that it took place."…California Nations Indian Gaming Association Chairman Anthony Miranda told delegates they must fight to maintain their hard-won sovereignty. He said the Abramoff scandal reminds tribes that they should push their own agenda, rather than hire high-paid lawyers to do it for them. "Now it is vital that tribal members themselves be the ones to walk the halls of Congress themselves and not send representatives," Miranda said, to loud applause. Juliet Williams, Associated Press, 1-12-06

To further that cause the National Congress of American Indians is trying to establish an embassy for the tribes: Embassy of Tribal Nations. That could be a very positive outcome of this entire mess - it would provide a formal setting and process for tribes to interact with the federal government, the only one to which they are subservient.

If all U.S. tribal nation flags were to fly on Embassy Row in Washington, D.C., they would easily eclipse the flags of foreign nations. The United States recognizes more than 560 indigenous tribes, whereas 170 flags represent foreign nation embassies on and near Massachusetts Avenue. Now, plans are under way to remedy the absence of tribal nation flags in the nation's capital. The National Congress of American Indians recently resurrected a plan to search for an Embassy Row building - and to establish diplomatic accreditation with the U.S. State Department. A $12 million capital campaign is now under way to purchase property for an Embassy of Tribal Nations. There have never been formal diplomatic relations - a formal agreement between two countries, which in turn opens the door for embassy establishment - between U.S. tribes and the State Department. "This facility will not only create a presence of our sovereignty collectively, as well as individually, but it also provides a station from which they can conduct business," said Ron Allen, NCAI treasurer. "Most of Indian Country comes into town for a few days, maybe a week, and most often don't have a place to operate out of. We hope we might provide work stations." Jodi Rave, Lee Enterprises, Bismarck Tribune, 1-2-06

In California the troubled state of affairs - with or without considering the national situation - has caused some of the tribes to consider working together on compact issues and not to negotiate as individual tribes but as a collective entity. That is just an idea at this point and one with its share of opposition, but it is a place to start in combating the threats to Indian gaming both in California and nationally.

California's oldest and largest tribal alliance is quietly pondering a controversial move that could give the organization a prominent role in shaping the future of Indian gambling in the state. The California Nations Indian Gaming Association has been developing guidelines for gambling agreements negotiated between individual tribes and the state. Until now, the powerful organization has stayed out of that debate, maintaining that the agreements, or compacts, are the sole province of each tribe at the negotiating table. But, with an approved set of criteria, the organization would be able to weigh in during the Legislature's consideration of new compacts. Five agreements, including two for separate San Diego and Imperial county tribes, have been stalled in the Legislature for months. "Compacting has been a major issue for a long, long time, and it's up to the membership to decide on the direction they want to go or not go," said Anthony Miranda, chairman of the California Indian gaming association. "Right now our position is we don't get involved in compacting for or against." Miranda said a series of draft compact principles have been circulated within the 63-member organization. He described the drafts as discussion documents and said the diverse group of tribes ultimately may not reach agreement on the proposal. James P. Sweeney, Copley News Service, San Diego Tribune, 1-16-06

2006 is going to be a year of change in Indian gaming. There is going to legislation limiting the location of gaming facilities, legislation more carefully defining the difference between Class II and Class III games, and legislation concerning political contributions and lobbying by tribes. The year does not promise many new compacts or major expansions in Indian gaming. Having said that, 2006 will be a year in which Indian gaming revenues continue to grow, and the tribes will continue to use those revenues to improve their lives, participate in the electoral process and influence legislation at the federal and local level. It is a necessity.

The real challenge to Indian gaming is going to be the same challenge that conventional casinos will face - the spread of gaming on both the Internet and slots run by the state lotteries.

But now, that is simply my opinion, isn't it?

Ken

Ken Adams

Ken Adams is the principal in the gaming consulting firm, Ken Adams and Associates. Formed in 1990, Ken Adams and Associates specializes in information, analysis, and strategic planning for Indian tribes, casino operations and gaming manufacturers.

Ken spent over 20 years in the hotel-casino industry, prior to founding Ken Adams and Associates. He held the positions of: Director of Casino Operations, Casino Manager, and Keno Department Manager. During this time, he developed numerous innovative marketing and customer development programs and systems for evaluating casino performance. Some of those programs, such as slot clubs and tournaments, have become industry standards.

Ken is also actively involved in gathering and disseminating information that is important to the gaming industry. He is editor and publisher of and the Adams' Report, a monthly newsletter specializing in identifying trends in casino gaming, regulation and manufacturing, the Adams Daily Report, an electronic newsletter that provides electronic links to the key gaming stories of the day, and the Adams Review, a special report distributed by Compton Dancer Consulting that provides editorial commentary on gaming trends.
Ken Adams
Ken Adams is the principal in the gaming consulting firm, Ken Adams and Associates. Formed in 1990, Ken Adams and Associates specializes in information, analysis, and strategic planning for Indian tribes, casino operations and gaming manufacturers.

Ken spent over 20 years in the hotel-casino industry, prior to founding Ken Adams and Associates. He held the positions of: Director of Casino Operations, Casino Manager, and Keno Department Manager. During this time, he developed numerous innovative marketing and customer development programs and systems for evaluating casino performance. Some of those programs, such as slot clubs and tournaments, have become industry standards.

Ken is also actively involved in gathering and disseminating information that is important to the gaming industry. He is editor and publisher of and the Adams' Report, a monthly newsletter specializing in identifying trends in casino gaming, regulation and manufacturing, the Adams Daily Report, an electronic newsletter that provides electronic links to the key gaming stories of the day, and the Adams Review, a special report distributed by Compton Dancer Consulting that provides editorial commentary on gaming trends.