WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, held an oversight hearing on Friday, Feb. 10 to discuss the impacts of the Department of Justice’s recent opinion concerning Internet gaming.
“Gaming has been the single most effective form of economic development for Indian Country. Tribal concerns and priorities must be considered, and tribal voices must be heard when court, administrative, or legislative decisions are made on gaming because of its significant role in the economy of Indian Country,” said Chairman Akaka.
In the Department of Justice opinion, the department concluded that interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a “sporting event or contest” do not violate federal law.
Witnesses expressed their concerns about the ruling’s impact at the hearing.
“Now that the department charged with enforcing the law has limited that statute to cross-border sports bets, there is literally no federal law standing in the way of a state authorizing intra-state online games, and even entering into compacts with other states and nations to pool players,” said Nelson Rose, a gambling law professor at Whittier Law School.
“Legislation that limits or restricts the ability of tribal governments to reap the benefits of Internet gaming is simply unacceptable,” said Attorney Glenn Feldman. “The $26 billion in revenue today is funding health programs, education programs, senior citizen programs, and tribes can’t afford to lose that revenue stream.”
“Gaming has assisted in producing strong tribal governmental infrastructures. Tribal gaming revenues have been a boon to the federal government as well. In light of the federal government’s trust responsibility to the tribes, it would likely have had to spend more on federal Indian programs in the absence of Indian gaming,” said witness Kevin Washburn, Dean of the School of Law Administration at the University of New Mexico.
“We’ve invested nearly a billion dollars tied to our geographic area. That is what we have negotiated for,” said Robert Odawi Porter, President of the Seneca Nation of Indians. “Opening up Internet gaming beyond those geographic borders and allowing [states] to seize business opportunities from patrons in our exclusivity zone is our greatest threat.”
“Tribal gaming occupies a unique status in the framework. Indian gaming is currently the only form of federally authorized and regulated gaming in the United States. In total, tribal gaming revenue makes up forty percent of the total casino gaming market in the United States. Those revenues are being put to work in Indian communities to build schools, keep people safe, and provide other essential services that these communities depend on,” said Chairman Akaka.
“There needs to be some accommodation for the loss of tribal gaming exclusivity. Tribes have a lot to lose with the expansion of Internet gaming – more than any other segment in the gaming industry. It is entirely appropriate that Congress give some consideration to that potential loss of exclusivity and protect it in some way,” said Feldman.
“In this session, Congress may consider proposals that would expand federal authorization and regulation of gaming activities in this country. The Committee will provide a legislative forum where everyone – especially tribal governments – are able to provide their perspective on this issue, which is so vital to tribal self-sufficiency,” Chairman Akaka said.
– Senate Committee on Indian Affairs