Tuesday August 7,2012 : U.S. TRIBES MORE REALISTIC ON INTERNET GAMBLING
Faced by what many see as inevitable legalization, tribes are reconsidering their opposition
The Washington state newspaper, News Tribune reported on changing US tribal attitudes to online gambling in an article over the weekend that engaged with tribes other than the high profile Morongo, which rose to prominence in California with attempts to corner the prospective online poker market in that state through land cardroom alliances
The article posits that tribal leaders are taking a more pragmatic view of online poker, fearing they might get left behind "in the rush to expand legalized gambling to the Internet."
To illustrate the change, the writer points to Tulalip Tribe secretary Glen Gobin, who only eight months ago told a Congressional hearing that the tribe was totally opposed to any form of online gambling, yet in July this year informed a Senate hearing that the tribes must be consulted on legalization, and emphasised that they must be given equal chances to participate in the market.
The article quotes W. Ron Allen, chairman of the Washington Indian Gaming Association, which speaks for 27 federally recognised tribes, and chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe who revealed that the Washington tribes have set up a task force to study online gambling.
“Glen is a realist,” he said. “Inevitably, they’re going to pass something. I think tribes as a general observation would prefer that it not happen, but tribal leaders are being realistic.”
Asked for his opinion by the News Tribune, Poker Players Alliance executive director John Pappas said: "It's definitely safe to say that the tribes’ position is evolving on a federal solution.”
He went on to observe that recent moves by individual states have spurred the tribes to rethink their earlier opposition.
“They are not comfortable with the idea of having to go to a state to get licensed,” he said. “But now states … are beginning to move forward and tribal casinos could be left in the dust.”
Pappas opined that on the federal front, in the House backers already have enough votes to overturn the 6-year-old ban on Internet gambling. Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton is leading the effort to pass an online gambling bill, he said, whilst in the Senate Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada is working on a similar bill that could pass before the end of the year.
The well-researched article examines the pros and cons of state-by-state as opposed to federal legalization, and the diverse opinions on who should regulate a legalised environment, noting that the PPA wants a federal solution for online poker only, with licensing and control through the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Gobin and many other tribal officials prefer the idea of regulation and licensing for their involvement to be left in the hands of the National Indian Gaming Commission, a federal agency that regulates the gambling operations of 237 tribes.
He is supported by Elizabeth Lohah Homer of the Osage Nation who says the National Indian Gaming Commission is “the ideal federal agency” to oversee online gaming. She warned that giving the job to any other agency “could prove disastrous” because of the long time it takes – years, or even decades – to get established.
The author claims that both camps are major spenders on the lobbying front, with the PPA paying out over $7.5 million since 2007, and hundreds of thousands more to individual political campaigns, and tribal interests donating over $20 million last year and $58 million to federal candidates since 1990.
Online poker activist, former Congressman and now PPA ambassador, Jon Porter, told the author that legalised online poker could help both commercial casinos and the tribes. He predicted that both will face a much greater threat from states that move to expand their lotteries to include online slot machines.
But he said Congress should accept the fact that Americans will gamble on the Internet.
“It’s clear that any industry which fails to embrace the Internet is doomed to failure,” Porter said. “Think of the struggles that newspapers have been going through, or how long it took the recording industry to effectively sell digital music.”
Two developments have ratcheted up the pressure for legalization, the News Tribune article suggests: the Black Friday prosecutions in 2011 and the deals involving the US Justice Department that have followed; and the policy revision on the Wire Act by the Justice Department, announced in December 2011.
The latter in particular cleared the way for many states to begin legalising online gaming with less concern about a confrontation with federal laws.
The Mohegan tribe in Connecticutt is taking a pragmatic approach to internet gambling in this evolving new environment, the News Tribune article reports, quoting chairman Bruce Bozsum, who last month told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that online gambling is “a reality in today’s digital world” and that the Mohegan Tribe prefers a federal solution and “is doing everything in our power to prepare for it.”
“Tribes should be extremely hesitant to entrust their economic futures to the tender mercies of the 50 states, many of whom are still in financial crisis and looking for new sources of revenue,” Bozsum said.
The author also points to Hawaii Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka, the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and a close ally of the tribes, who has unveiled a draft of his proposed Tribal Online Gaming Act – a measure that would allow federally recognised tribes to apply for licenses to operate online gambling.
Akaka wants to put the Department of Commerce in charge of online gaming, and suggests that the department create a new Office of Tribal Online Gaming.