By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Asst. Editor
CHEROKEE, N.C. – Earlier this year, a community Bingo game scheduled by the Office of Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed was cancelled due it being deemed illegal. During its regular session on Thursday, July 13, Tribal Council passed an ordinance which changes the law making community Bingo legal on lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI).
Council passed Ord. No. 595 (2023), submitted by the EBCI Office of the Attorney General, unanimously by all present (Painttown Rep. Dike Sneed was absent.)
During discussion on the legislation, Michael McConnell, EBCI attorney general, commented, “Community clubs and tribal offices historically have conducted Bingo games to build good will, cohesion, try to support a family in need…within the last six months, somebody raised an issue about that saying ‘hey, it’s the Tribal Gaming Commission that’s responsible for policing community Bingo and unless you have permission from Tribal Gaming Commission (TGC) you could get in trouble.”
“This (Ord. No. 595) would allow community Bingo games by Community Clubs and tribal government offices and officials.”
Ord. No. 595 amends Cherokee Code Section 16 adding a section (Sec. 16-1.05B) on Community Bingo and states that no cash prizes will be allowed and sets a cap of $250 on the value of prizes given.
In discussing the legislation, Attorney General McConnell noted, “This is the minimum approach. I did share an earlier draft with Michael Gross, advisor to the TGC. He responded with comments and with a much more elaborate approach to this that included some things that I chose not to include because I thought they were barriers that the community would not accept such as if you wanted to do a community Bingo game you would have to get a permit from TGC and pay a fee. And, there would be certain reporting requirements. All of those things do build to a very effective ordinance, but I thought that those would be too cumbersome for the community and so I chose this more modest approach.”
Gross confirmed stating, “We worked very closely on this, and I think the substitute you have in front of you will certainly allow community Bingo to continue to take place. And, I think it would benefit the community by being put on by the community organizations…the way that we worked to draft this legislation, the TGC wouldn’t have any regulatory authority over it at all. It would just be put on by the community centers so TGC doesn’t have a problem with the way the substitute language is drafted at all.”
Wolftown Rep. Mike Parker inquired during the discussion if Community Club officials have to be present to conduct a game that is a benefit for an outside party.
Attorney General McConnell responded, “I suppose the Community Club could arrange for somebody else to do it, but the Community Club would be on the hook for making sure that the other limitations in the ordinance are complied with.”
The issue arose following a memorandum written by Gross on Feb. 9 stating, “…the activity described is Bingo, a Class II gaming activity, and is unlawful for the public to engage in without being properly licensed and regulated by the TGC.”
In cancelling the above-mentioned event in March, Chief Sneed released a statement, “My office was presented with a letter from the Tribal Gaming Commission regarding the community Bingo events and Bingo fundraisers. Per TGC, Bingo is legally classified as an example of Class II gaming in Cherokee Code Sec. 16-1(g)…”
Ord. No. 595 will become law following ratification by Chief Sneed.