Friday, November 18, 2011 : U.S. TRIBES WANT TO SHARE IN INTERNET GAMBLING, BUT RETAIN SOVEREIGNTY
Senate Indian Affairs Committee hears views on legalising internet poker
The first of two congressional hearings this week on the legalization of internet gambling in the United States, a hearing by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, took place in Washington DC Thursday, with tribal representatives asserting that whilst the tribes want to ensure participation in any legalised US online gambling, it should not be at the cost of their sovereignty over their own affairs.
Representatives said that Native American tribes want the federal government to ensure they are allowed to operate, regulate, tax and license online gambling, if they choose to get in on the business, the Associated Press news service reported.
Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka, who chairs the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said that the discussions by the congressional ‘supercommittee' looking for ways to reduce the US budget deficit had intensified the debate on the legalization of online poker
Ernie Stevens, chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission, said tribes are agreed on some core principles, including one that there should be no taxation of tribal revenues. He claimed that current Internet gambling proposals before Congress violate those principles, and that his organisation therefore opposes their passage.
Sean Brown, speaking on behalf of Representative Joe Barton, the author of a bill seeking to legalise online poker, said the legalization would allow tribes, like states, to opt out of allowing Internet gambling if they chose.
Other representatives expressed concern at the possibility of the US Department of Commerce regulating operators of internet gambling sites, stressing that they wanted the current regulatory authority on tribal gaming, the National Indian Gaming Commission, to continue to regulate their businesses if they chose to participate in internet gambling.
The committee heard that last year 236 tribes operated 422 gambling facilities in 28 states, generating $27 billion in revenue. This was presented as evidence that the NIGC has the experience and capability to regulate tribal Internet gambling and would not have to start from scratch, learning laws particular to tribes as well as cultural considerations.
Some tribes spoke against the legalization of internet gambling, seeing it as a competitive threat to their existing land businesses.
"The Tulalip tribe sees the legalization of Internet gambling as a direct threat to the economic growth in Indian Country," said Glen Gobin, vice chairman of the Tulalip Tribes of Tulalip, West Virginia.
"Do you think tribes are going to be able to compete with someone like Harrah's on Internet gaming?" he added.
Later today (Friday) a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold its second hearing on Internet gambling.
Leading political and industry figures are expected to appear, including Reps. Barney Frank and John Campbell speaking in favour of legalising online poker while Rep. Frank Wolf is expected to strongly oppose any weakening of the 2006 UIGEA. Wolf will cite the social costs of gambling.
Committee member Rep. Joe Barton has introduced a bill that would legalise and set up federal oversight of the online poker industry.