One thing was certain after Thursdays hearing on online gaming in the Committee on Indian Affairs in Washington D.C.: Indian tribes want to have a major role in any legislative and regulatory discussion.
The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs heard arguments from both proponents and opponents of regulated online gambling, including representatives of two Indian tribes who have different stances on the issue.
Bruce Bozsum, chairman of the Mohegan Tribe, said that Internet gaming is of "critical importance" to his people. He said any online gambling law should protect tribal rights and give tribes the opportunity to compete on a fair and level playing field.
"Indian tribes can compete and be as successful as anyone else," he said.
Bozsum said legislation shouldnt provide head starts for other states, including Nevada and New Jersey. Any legislation should allow wagers to be placed on non-tribal lands while also strictly enforcing shutdowns of non-regulated sites.
Glen Gobin, vice chairman of the Tulalip Tribes in Washington State, said his tribe opposed online gaming, calling the practice a "direct threat" to the Indian gaming industry
Gobin noted Indian gaming will generate over $260 billion in 10 years, compared to the much-reported $41 billion in online gaming, and allowing online gaming wasnt worth the risk it posed Native American gaming interests.
Gobin also expressed concern that the name-recognition of a major casino giant would be too great an obstacle for an Indian tribe to overcome if online poker was federally licensed and regulated.
This view was shared by Penny Coleman, an attorney for Coleman Indian Law. She said she is concerned some Indian tribes will be "run over." Mohegan and some bigger tribes are ready for online gaming, Coleman added. But other tribes "dont have Internet gaming on their radar."
An issue that many of the panelists agreed upon was the idea that Indian tribes can both operate and regulate online gambling. Bozsum said tribes do have the technology and experience to regulate gaming and the ability work with other organizations.
National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) Chairman Ernie Stevens agreed. He opened his remarks by saying tribal governments cant compromise their sovereignty and that the legalization of Internet gaming represents "significant concern."
He said NIGA has had discussions for two years on how online gaming would impact Indian nation and that tribes are unified on this issues:
1. Legislation should recognize tribes can operate and regulate gaming
2. Legislation should allow customers to access sites beyond tribal borders
3. Tribal revenue should not be taxed by federal or state governments.
4. Legislation should honor tribal gaming compacts
5. Congress should not amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act
Poker Players Alliance Chairman Alfonse DAmato also said Indian tribes needed to be concerned with state lotteries offering online games, including scratch games. He said the scratch games could be played like slot machines online. He also agreed that Indian tribes need a seat at the online gambling regulation discussion table, but that the status quo is the real issue right now and the UIGEA is ineffective.
"If we want to keep youngsters off the Internet, lets regulate it!" he exclaimed.
In his closing remarks, Sen. Daniel Akaka said that he wanted more hearings to discuss the regulation of Internet gaming and its impact on Indian tribes. And he perfectly summarized the issue facing regulation:
"This is a complex issue, and I think were only scratching the surface."
Effective Date: November 17th 2011.
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