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    Let the Games Begin
    Posted: July 26, 2005 by: _Tom Wanamaker_
    ( / Indian Country Today
    NIGC reports another double-digit revenue jump for Indian gaming

    Schwarzenegger 'rips off' California localities

    Indian gaming reaped $19.4 billion in revenue in 2004. Statistics released
    July 13 by the National Indian Gaming Commission, the industry's federal
    regulatory agency, revealed a nationwide growth rate of 15.3 percent over total
    revenue of $16.8 billion posted in 2003. Tribal casino revenue grew by 13.7
    percent from 2002 to 2003.

    ''The Indian gaming industry continues to grow at a steady pace,'' said NIGC
    Chairman Philip C. Hogen in a news release. ''This growth has allowed tribes
    to create jobs, continue economic development opportunities, build
    much-needed infrastructure within their communities and provide services for their

    At many tribally owned casinos, non-Indians fill a considerable majority of
    gaming jobs while tribal payments to vendors, contractors and suppliers
    ripple throughout local economies across the country. As the industry brings in
    more cash for tribal governments, state treasuries enjoy the benefits of larger
    tribal contributions through revenue ''sharing'' payments negotiated into
    Class III gaming compacts.

    NIGC's Region V, comprising Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, reported the
    greatest increase in gaming revenue, a 43.9 percent jump to $1.2 billion in 2004
    from $867 million in 2003. Look for this region to post another large gain in
    2005; in November 2004, Oklahoma voters approved a referendum that, among other
    things, allows Indian casinos in that state to upgrade their Class II
    facilities to the more lucrative Class III.

    Region II - California and northern Nevada - posted the greatest monetary
    increase: a gain of just under $1.1 billion, representing a 23.2 percent boost.

    Schwarzenegger terminates special distribution

    In September 1999, 61 tribes in California signed Class III gaming compacts
    with Sacramento. Each of these good-faith agreements contained provisions
    requiring the tribes to pay into a special distribution fund designed to
    compensate local governments for off-reservation infrastructure impacts caused by
    tribally owned casinos. Such impacts include things like building and upgrading
    roads, increased usage of emergency services, treatment programs for
    problem gamblers and the like.

    Yet current Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (of ''the Indians are ripping us
    off'' fame) nixed plans to pay out $20 million of the special distribution monies
    earmarked for local governments. According to a news release from the
    California Nations Indian Gaming Association, on July 11 Schwarzenegger ''objected
    to a budget line item'' and instead ''decided to hold the funds in a reserve

    The North County Times reported that the governor's ''hasty and erroneous
    decision'' came about after the state gaming commission mistakenly told him
    that ''none'' of the localities involved filed the appropriate paperwork on
    time. In fact, the Times said, ''pretty much all of them had'' done so. It seems
    that the governor and his gaming overseers need to get on the same page.

    CNIGA is ''deeply disappointed that the governor chose to deprive local
    governments from the funds they were promised,'' said Anthony Miranda, CNIGA
    chairman, in the release. ''CNIGA calls upon the governor to follow through with
    the promise made to local governments by both the state of California and the
    tribal governments when they entered into these compacts by releasing the
    funds to be allocated as intended.''

    While the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act does not require tribes to pay for
    local impacts, the tribal governments involved obviously understand the
    importance of maintaining good government-to-government relations with their
    adjacent municipal counterparts. Yet a bureaucratic snafu at the state level has
    sullied tribal efforts at good will.

    Who's ripping whom off now?

    The last holdout

    A long-running dispute over gaming compacts in New Mexico appears to have
    been settled. On July 12, Pojoaque Pueblo and the state of New Mexico reached
    an agreement to settle a dispute involving gaming compacts. Pojoaque agreed to
    pay Albuquerque $24 million in previously contested slot machine revenue
    sharing payments, according to an Associated Press report.

    The contention stems from a series of Class III compacts that were
    renegotiated in 2001. These agreements required New Mexico's gaming tribes to pay to
    the state no more than 8 percent of their net slot machine win. The original
    compacts, negotiated in 1997, called for a revenue sharing rate of 16 percent.
    Several tribes believed this rate to be excessive, and their protests
    resulted in the 2001 renegotiations.

    The AP reported that, while the settlement still requires judicial approval
    from U.S. District Court Judge Bruce Black, Pojoaque will begin making the 8
    percent payments immediately. The $24 million in back payments owed by the
    pueblo will be paid off in installments of $1 million annually for three years,
    followed by payments of $2 million per year, until the settlement is paid
    off in approximately 12 and one-half years.

    Pojoaque was the last of New Mexico's 13 gaming pueblos to agree to the 2001

    Off-reservation casinos

    The U.S. Supreme Court decision in the City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian
    Nation of New York case last March has caused quite a conundrum. While
    recognizing the legitimacy of an Indian land claim case, the court effectively denied
    remedy other than the arduous process of applying for federal land trust
    protection. Statements made at a recent committee hearing in the House of
    Representatives may foreshadow limitations on the ability of states to leverage
    casinos into land-claim settlement talks with Indian nations.

    Reports in the Albany Times-Union, Syracuse Post Standard and Utica
    Observer-Dispatch state that Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., chairman of the House
    Resources Committee, is drafting legislation that could prevent off-reservation
    casinos. Pombo's proposal would require tribes seeking to establish a casino
    on lands outside their recognized reservations to gain approval of other
    tribes within 200 miles of the intended off-rez location.

    The ramifications of such legislation, if it becomes law, could be
    widespread. One result would be an effective ban on the ability of tribes to move
    across state lines to operate casinos. In New York, this will eliminate Albany's
    ability to use tribes from Wisconsin and Oklahoma as leverage against
    in-state tribes in negotiating land claim settlements.

    The 200-mile approval provision effectively will pit tribal governments
    against each other - it remains to be seen whether the ''haves'' will allow the
    dilution of their patron bases by allowing new competition close to home.

    In California, several landless tribes have proposed building casinos in or
    near urban areas. The Pombo proposal would effectively torpedo such plans.
    And when viewed in combination with the Sherrill case, which said tribal
    governments could not automatically assert sovereignty over reacquired lands,
    landless tribes will not have a viable means to create reservations by purchase.

    The BIA is already backed up for decades in its recognition process. Will we
    now witness the creation of a similar logjam in BIA's land-into-trust
    Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... just sing, sing a song.sigpic

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