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Bits and Pieces from Indian Country - July 2005

12 September 2005

The battle in Congress over Indian sovereignty is not one that will end, ever; every Congress will have its sovereignty issues. The discussion is generally framed around gaming, but that is only because Indian gaming is the hot topic of the day. It is not only the sovereignty of Indian tribes and their ability to operate casinos that concern legislators; sovereignty is a two sided issue, the other side is the state's sovereignty. Each side claims the right to govern itself and its citizens. The sovereignty of states and their ability to control or regulate any activity, such as gaming, medical marijuana, prescription drug sales concerns most states and their representatives as much as the sovereignty of Indian tribes. This month there is a slightly different twist (though hardly new) to the sovereignty discussion, the sovereignty of native Hawaiians. The bill to grant a separate status with sovereign rights to Hawaiians has stalled and partly because of gaming. John Ensign of Nevada is currently leading the charge to prevent passage of the bills. It would be bad for Nevada to have casinos in Hawaii; Hawaiians are some of downtown Las Vegas' best customers.

Sen. John Ensign is blocking legislation sought by Hawaii leaders to permit sovereignty rights for the state's natives, contending the bill could lead to legalized gambling on the islands and expanded gaming on the mainland. …Hawaii is one of only two states without legalized gambling. …Ensign said he wanted to make sure that Hawaii natives would not be allowed to invoke any new rights to open casinos. Further, he said he feared Native Hawaiians would purchase mainland property and use claims of sovereignty to establish gaming establishments. Some American Indian tribes, who enjoy similar sovereignty, have used "off-reservation" procedures to expand their gaming reach. Ensign cited an example of an Alaska native corporation seeking to win approval to build a casino near Denver International Airport. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, also has promoted bills that would allow Alaska native entities to open casinos in the lower 48 states. "We have to not only prevent (gaming) from happening in Hawaii, but we have to prevent this in Denver and other state lands in trust in other places." The Hawaii bill, written by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, forbids native Hawaiians from getting involved in gaming. Ensign said the language "is too loose." Steve Tetreault/ Samantha Young, Stephens Washington Bureau, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 7-20-05

The conventional sovereignty discussion is still alive and well. This year's hot topic is really more specific than simple tribal sovereignty, it is about a tribe's ability to put a casino in a location that is not part of its current and commonly recognized reservation. There will be more, but the latest bill to inhibit a tribe's ability to place land not part of the reservation into trust to be used for a casino was introduced by a representative from Pennsylvania.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent plans to introduce legislation this week aimed at keeping American Indian tribes from building casinos on newly acquired lands far from their existing reservations. Dent, R-15th District, said the bill is an attempt to stop the Oklahoma-based Delaware Nation from establishing gambling operations in Pennsylvania. 'There's a lot of interest in this legislation,' said Dent, who plans to discuss the bill at an 11 a.m. news conference today at the Forks Township Community Center. The Delawares are suing to reclaim 315 acres in Northampton County. The 1,200-member tribe says powerful colonialists cheated one of their ancestors out of the land in the 1700s. If they succeed, the Delawares want to make a swap for other land in the state where they could build a casino. A federal judge rejected the lawsuit in December, saying there was no check on the king of England's power to control the transfer of land in the colonies. The tribe has appealed the ruling to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. Dent's legislation would repeal a section of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that permits casinos on new lands taken into federal trust for tribes as a result of a settled land claim. Jeff Miller, Morning Call, 7-25-05

There will be other bills as the senate hearings continue. The tribes are getting a chance to testify, but overwhelmingly the mood and tone of the proceedings is going against the tribes.

The chief of an Indian tribe attempting to build casinos in Ohio faced off with Sen. George Voinovich on Wednesday at a Senate hearing on whether to curtail off-reservation gambling. Chief Charles D. Enyart of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, which has proposed casinos in Lorain, Lordstown and other communities, told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that his tribe seeks "a mutually beneficial and political economic relationship with the state" 150 years after its ancestors were forcibly removed from Ohio. He told committee Chairman John McCain that his tribe didn't have the resources to pursue Ohio land claims until recently, and that it filed a lawsuit last month seeking return of its ancestral lands only after Ohio elected officials refused to discuss the matter. Sabrina Eaton, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7-28-05

The current process for taking land into trust for gaming is not simple or easy for a tribe, but there are still many states that want to close the door completely.

Tribes can acquire land away from their reservations for gambling only if they satisfy a "two-part determination" that is an exception to the act. First, the interior secretary must determine a gaming establishment would be in the best interest of the tribe without being detrimental to the surrounding community. Secondly, the governor of the state where the land is being sought must agree. Tony Batt, Stephens Washington Bureau, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 7-28-05

Two senators on Wednesday urged a crackdown on off-reservation Indian gaming while an Interior Department official said expansion of tribal casinos away from native lands is not yet creating problems. But George Skibine, an acting deputy assistant secretary, told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that off-reservation gaming could create problems...It was the committee's fifth hearing on Indian gaming since April, underscoring the desire of its chairman, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to add federal oversight to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. The Interior Department has approved just three applications for off-reservation Indian gaming since the act was passed, Skibine said. But Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, told the committee that off-reservation gaming is already a national problem as tribes seek casinos near big cities to boost revenues. Tony Batt, Stephens Washington Bureau, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 7-28-05

In Indian country the story, not only this month, but also this year, is the battle over sovereignty and placing land into trust for the purpose of operating a casino. Generally, the issue is being oversimplified; opponents argue that tribes are trying to take advantage of sovereignty to move close to urban population centers and operate a casino. The tribes are usually characterized as foreign to the area with only crass commercial objectives.

The tribes often argue the land in question, regardless of its location in another region or state than its reservation is really the tribe's natural territory. Certainly in New York the United States Supreme Court recognized in 1979 that the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin was in fact native to New York and entitled to a share of a settlement related to land claims in New York, along with the Oneida Tribe of New York and the Oneida Tribe of Canada.

The federal policy of relocating tribes, beginning in the 1820s, on land convenient to the government, often with mixed groups of tribes has left a legacy of confusion and unclear claims. The battle is far from over, but it seems clear at this point that once again the historical claims of the tribes will lose out to the politics and business interests of non-Indians of the moment.

Poker was the big story in July, but not the only story; slot machines and labor unions shared the stage. The World Series of Poker demonstrated just how big poker has become; poker will continue to grow in size and influence affecting the way people think about gaming in general, paving the way for a broader acceptance of gaming.

The pressure to add slot machines to save the horse race industry is growing and gathering steam; there are those who hope that with slot machine revenues to help increase the prizes and fund better horses, tracks, trainers and jockeys that horse racing will undergo the same transformation that poker has experienced. Don't bet on it.

There is a major change coming in labor. With the break up of the AFL-CIO, gaming can expect new and different approaches to organizing gaming workers. None of these stories is a one-month phenomenon, July was simply a month where they stepped to the center of the stage enough for us to recognize how important they have become.

In July and August the majority of the public companies release their second quarter results--a good chance for all of us to check the scores, pick a team or two or even three for a parlay for the next game (your next quarter or next year) and make a couple of bets.

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.