Indian Gaming Today

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Indian Gaming and the Economy

Economist Alan Meister, author of the Indian Gaming Industry Report, says that Indian gaming growth has slowed in recent years.

Because of the current recession, there is short-term uncertainty at least through 2009, he predicts. Long-term uncertainty, says Meister, is caused less by the economic climate and more by the legal and political climates. Non-market factors, such as legal challenges, or proposed or new regulations and statutes, can have the effect of slowing the industry's growth. Additionally, points out Meister, increased competition from the expansion of tribal gaming or other legalized gaming could slow market growth or even saturate the market. (We've been working with Alan on a forthcoming article titled, "Indian Gaming and Beyond: Tribal Economic Development and Diversification.")

Find information on the Indian Gaming Industry Report here. We'll again be posting on the impacts of the recession on tribal gaming shortly.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ken Salazar Tapped to Head Interior Department

President-elect Obama has tapped Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) to head the Department of the Interior. Salazar is former director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and state attorney general. A first-term senator, he is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Most of the attention given to the nomination will focus on Salazar’s moderate record on environmental, lands, and resources issues, which seems destined to please some and displease others. Virtually all commentators agree that Salazar is a reasonable and reasoned lawmaker, one who will be able to redeem Interior’s wild and wooly reputation as a lobbyists’ playground.

President-elect Obama sent an important signal, however, in introducing Salazar. In contrast to President Bush and his two nominees to head Interior (Gale Norton in 2000 and Dirk Kempthorne in 2006), both Obama and Salazar explicitly raised the subject of Indian Country.

This is significant because of the key role Interior plays in the federal government’s interactions with reservations and American Indian people. After all, the Interior Department oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians. Too, the Office of Indian Gaming Management is responsible for implementing gaming-related policy assigned to the BIA through IGRA and other federal laws.

Salazar has little experience working with tribes or on issues related to Indian Country. In accepting the nomination, however, he did state that he looks forward to addressing “challenges” facing American Indian communities.

Obama sent an additional, critically important signal in discussing how the federal government should approach tribes. “We need more than just a government-to-government relationship; we need a nation-to-nation relationship,” he said.

This tracks with Obama’s campaign-trail pronouncements affirming tribal sovereignty. If taken literally, it goes further than prior presidential statements recognizing a government-to-government relationship. Nations are cultural and social communities; Obama’s statement seems to recognize the specificity of tribal cultural and social identity.

Still to come are Obama’s choices for a new White House liaison on Indian Affairs (so new that it’s never been done before), a new Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, a new Special Trustee for American Indians, and so on. These choices may extend to new members of the National Indian Gaming Commission, as well.

For right now, Ken Salazar is the cabinet appointee to watch.

The Obama Transition Team’s special designee on Indian affairs, Keith Harper, along with Native American Rights Fund Executive Director John Echohawk, will continue to advise Obama and now, Salazar, on positions of importance to Indian Country. We’ll keep you posted.

For more on Salazar's nomination, see the New York Times' coverage or click here.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

A Corrupt North Dakota?!? From the "What Planet Are We On, Anyway?" Files

In the immediate aftermath of the stunning revelations about Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, USA Today published the results of an analysis that puts little old North Dakota at the top of its list of the "most corrupt" states in the U.S. North Dakota had the highest number of federal convictions for public corruption when measured on a per capita basis. With only 635,000 people, 53 convictions in the past decade resulted in a rate of 8.3 convictions per 100,000 people. So, states with much greater numbers of convictions but also with larger populations came out with lower rates than North Dakota -- like Illinois, with 503 convictions, Pennsylvania, with 555 convictions, or Florida, with 824 convictions.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem blasted the USA Today analysis, calling it "patently ridiculous." Stenehjem complained that the analysis included federal prosecutions of local and tribal officials. The last public corruption conviction of a state official was in 1954. And here is where gaming comes in.

In 1950, Elmo Christianson, a young attorney from Cavalier, was elected Attorney General. One of North Dakota's "golden boys," Christianson had served in WWII. Christianson had trouble funding his campaign, and sought some creative financing from "out of state" sources. Shortly before the election, he fell in with Herman Paster, who distributed slot machines in Minnesota, and Paster's attorney, Allan Nilva. The three of them agreed to let Paster bring slot machines to North Dakota, where Christianson, as Attorney General, would protect the illegal machines from being shut down by the state. Unfortunately for the three, their conspiracy continued into the following year, after the federal Johnson Act took effect on January 2, 1951, thus triggering a federal investigation and prosecution for interstate transportation of illegal gambling devices. Nilva was acquitted, and after a mistrial, Christianson and Paster were both convicted in March 1954 of conspiracy to violate the Johnson Act.

Read the USA Today article.

Read the Eighth Circuit case affirming Christianson's and Paster's convictions, and detailing the sordid and fascinating conspiracy.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Who’s the Key to the Transition for Indian Country?

Keith Harper, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Lead on Barack Obama’s Interior Department Review Team. This means he is in the process of shaping what the incoming administration’s Interior Department will look like in terms of personnel as well as ideological and political posture.

Harper is a partner and chairs the Native American Practice Group at a major D.C. law firm. He has been lead attorney on the never-ending Cobell trust land litigation, and was head of the D.C. office of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF). Before becoming a Review Team Lead, Harper advised Obama on Indian affairs throughout the campaign.

Those watching the transition expect an Interior Department whose posture toward federal Indian programs and federal Indian policy will change dramatically from that seen throughout Bush years. One might assume that American Indians will be more visible within the Department and in the Office of Indian Gaming Management, while the Department’s stance on key issues related to tribal gaming will change, as well. For instance, it is likely that the 2005 letter that changed the BIA’s policy on approving compacts for prospective gaming sites on land not yet held in trust will be up for review.

Expect more efforts to engage in government-to-government consultation with tribes, as well.

For now, there is little doubt that the man to watch is Harper.

More here and here.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

A (Rare) Informed Editorial on Indian Gaming

An editorial in Saturday’s St. Petersburg Times offers a well-informed perspective on the current stand-off in Florida between the Seminole Tribe and state officials.

After the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the governor exceeded his authority in negotiating (at long last) a compact with the Seminoles, the state has been stymied by how to enforce the court's decision. The governor negotiated table games with the tribe, and the court ruled that the games were beyond the governor's power to authorize.

The key to the stand-off is the revenue-sharing provision in the compact: if all the tribe may operate is slot machines (which are legal in a few Florida counties), then there likely is not sufficient "give" by the state to justify the revenue sharing -- a fact that the editorial recognizes, and brings to readers' attention.

For more background on the situation in Florida, see our earlier posts, or read more on today's topic here.

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