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Bits and Pieces from Indian Country - November 2005

4 January 2006

September was a good month for the states that were hoping to get more from Indian gaming but not necessarily a good month for the tribes. Individual states seem to be gaining more control over Indian gaming, and if not the ability to tax casino revenues, something very much like it. The Oneida Nation of New York, after losing a dispute in the Supreme Court has started to pay local taxes. The Potawatomi of Wisconsin paid the State of Wisconsin and agreed to a new payment schedule in exchange for a new and longer compact. And In Washington State, the Spokanes agreed to revenue sharing in exchange for expanding opportunities.

The Oneida Indian Nation says its tax deal with the city of Sherrill could be a model to settle similar pending disputes with other local governments. But while reaction to the agreement included praise, it also drew criticism and ambivalence. In an agreement announced Thursday, the Oneidas said they would pay nearly $60,000 in back taxes to Sherrill and continue to pay future taxes on time - at least for the five-year term of the pact. The tribe also said it would obey all city codes and allow city inspectors onto nation property. The agreement ended an 8-year long dispute that wound its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Nation Representative Ray Halbritter said he hoped the agreement could serve as a blueprint for the tribe's tax battles with Madison and Oneida counties, and the Town of Verona, which say they are owed millions of dollars in unpaid taxes, interest and penalties. State Sen. Ray Meier said the Oneidas had little choice but to reach an agreement because the issue was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in April, when it ruled that too many years passed for the tribe to claim that its reacquired former reservation lands were again sovereign. The ruling also said the tribe must pay property taxes on them and obey local laws. Newsday, 10-7-05

In addition to paying the $43.6 million the Potawatomi owed the state for its fiscal year that ended in August, the same payment schedule with annual payments of 6% to 8% of casino net revenue is included in the new compact revisions. Steve Schultze, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 10-4-05

Spokanes agree to share revenue with state in compact with far-reaching implications...agreement was publicly released Friday and still needs approval from the state and federal governments…It marks the first time a Washington state tribe has agreed to share gambling revenue with the state. If it's approved, other large tribes here could seek similar deals, which could pump tens of millions in revenue into the state budget. But the state had to make major concessions to get the Spokanes to buy in. The state agreed to remove betting limits at some of the tribe's card tables and cleared it to offer more than twice as many pseudo-slot machines and casinos as other tribes. It also allowed the tribe to offer 24-hour, seven-day-a-week gambling, credit to high rollers and an off-reservation casino…Tribal gambling revenues in Washington have skyrocketed from $50 million in 1996 to $900 million last year. Kenneth P. Vogel; Tacoma News Tribune, 10-8-05

The Washington agreement may lead to new agreements with the other tribes and, of course. expanded gaming in the state. The first tribe to step up, the Skokomish Tribe, wants to put a casino at a NASCAR track. Like everything else, it is a process, but this is the first step.

The Skokomish Tribe wants to build a new casino on or near a proposed NASCAR raceway in Kitsap County, according to a letter sent this week to Gov. Christine Gregoire. Tribal council leaders want to offer gaming at several off-reservation sites, including the proposed 81,500-seat racetrack south of the Bremerton National Airport, according to the letter dated Thursday. The tribe already operates the Lucky Dog Casino on its reservation near Shelton. It's also pursuing increased betting limits, longer operating hours and more gambling activities. Associated Press, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10-22-05

Across the border in Oregon, the process is a couple of steps further along. The Confederate Tribes of Warm Springs is trying to move its casino to a better location. Actually, a beautiful location and that is part of problem, some people just don't think that is the right place for a casino (not unlike the discussion currently taking place in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania). The federal government has to agree and approve of the move. In Oregon they are gathering data to assess the impact on the environment and society.

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs want to build an off-reservation resort and casino in Cascade Locks, roughly 40 miles east of Portland in the Columbia River Gorge. Environmentalists, lottery retailers and others oppose the plan; Gov. Ted Kulongoski and most city and county officials support it. As required by law, the Bureau of Indian Affairs launched an environmental impact statement review "to document the environmental, social and economic consequences" of the casino resort and list alternatives, including a no-build option. The tribe must get the bureau's boss, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, to approve the transfer of 25 acres into trust to build the casino…The draft environmental impact review should be ready for public comment this winter, with a final statement expected next summer. Oregonian, 10-24-05

One state further south in California, the process is in another phase: debate. In California, as in most states now, the creation of an Indian casino sparks a great deal of local interest and heated debate. Not always part of the formal process as described by the national Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (again like Pennsylvania where the cities are trying to assume a role that the legislation did not create), local communities are interjecting themselves into the process. They hold public meetings to review the plans, city councils vote for and against, and they put "advisory" measures on the ballot, all in an attempt to be a part of the process.

Now officials in Yuba County and Marysville, along with an Indian tribe from neighboring Butte County and developers from Chicago, are asking voters to endorse a new prize attraction for the site: a $150 million casino, hotel and convention center.
Yuba County's Measure G is one of two regional ballot measures to be decided Nov. 8 asking citizens to vote "yes" or "no" on whether they want major Indian gambling developments to come to town. The other is Measure I in Amador County, where one tribe is trying to develop a casino near the town of Plymouth and another has a state compact to develop a casino near Ione. The advisory measures could provide important tests of California communities' clout to accept or reject casinos by landless Indians trying to acquire local properties or by other tribes wanting to build outside their reservations. Peter Hecht, Sacramento Bee, 10-17-05

The citizens of California and nearly every other state that has Indian tribes would like to be a part of the process. Very few are willing to leave the process up to the governor or the state legislature and the federal government. The issue is more and more complicated by the fact that the intended casino is not located on tribal land. Land must be acquired and placed into "trust"; that is a much longer and more complicated process than simply coming to an agreement and signing a compact to open a casino on tribal land. It hasn't happened often, but it has become the center of the debate. Senator John McCain has promised to revisit the act and tighten the controls. He promised that a while ago, but he is becoming more emphatic.

"It must be revisited, and we will," McCain told leaders of the nine main tribes in Oregon during a meeting at Portland State University…"Once you open those doors, anything can happen," said Delores Pigsley, chairwoman of the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz on the Oregon coast. But McCain was firm in his response. "We have a difference of opinion," McCain said. "This is an industry with a long history of corruption, so we'll just have to respectfully disagree…"I can't go back and change history," McCain said. "I'd like to go back and right all those wrongs. But all I can do is try to right the wrongs that are before us now." Seattle Times, 10-25-05

On another front, the tribes had a setback also. The National Labor Relations Board ruled that it has jurisdiction over an Indian casino, a battle the unions and the tribes have been fighting for years.

Federal labor board rules in favor of tribal casino employees
The National Labor Relations Board has confirmed that federal labor laws apply to employees at tribal casinos. In May of last year, the board declined to dismiss a union's complaint against the San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino in California, despite arguments that the federal government lacked jurisdiction because the casino is on an Indian reservation. The NLRB issued a final ruling in that case last week, dismissing another argument by the California casino that the board had no jurisdiction. The board ordered the casino to allow the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union equal access to its property. Cara Rubinsky, Associated Press, Newsday, 10-6-05

While it appears from reading the stories in the press this month that Indian gaming is losing ground, I don't think it really is. However, it is becoming more complicated and expensive for the tribes. As the industry matures it faces the same pressures that conventional industries face, and one of those is the pressure from government for more control and more revenue. Congress, driven by the current set of investigations in lobbying practices and the recognition process and pressures from the states for more controls, will certainly make some changes to the Act. The question is: what changes? We will have to just wait and see, unless you are one of the interested parties, and in that case you had best pack your bags and go to Washington to lobby for your cause. P.S.: Be prepared to meet many others on the same mission with a different agenda.


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.