02/10/2012 : TRIBES MUST BE CONSULTED IN ANY ONLINE GAMBLING LEGALISATION MOVES
Fears that ‘commercial interests' may be trying to build a monopoly
Thursday's hearing of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs covering the topic “The U.S. Department of Justice Opinion on Internet Gaming: What's at Stake for Tribes?” predictably delivered a slew of different perspectives and an insight into Indian fears.
The president of the Seneca Nation of Indians in New York, Robert Odawi Porter, voiced tribal fears that major Nevada and New Jersey land gambling corporates pushing for federal legalization may be trying to stage what he described as a ‘power grab' in their efforts to establish a monopoly for their benefit.
He recalled that Rep. Joe Barton's attempt to federally legalise online poker last year was condemned by the National Indian Gaming Association, and stressed that it was imperative that the tribes were involved in the political debate on legalization.
Porter also expressed concern at the wider legalization of online gambling beyond poker, which he characterised as "a slippery slope"
He received some support from Poker Players Alliance lawyer Patrick Fleming, who distinguished online poker from other forms of online gambling and stressed how important it was that Indian tribes be involved in any legalization process.
He also suggested that legalised online poker could generate additional business for Indian land operators, and that the rake from internet poker represents only one percent of the total tribal gaming win.
"The short answer to the Department of Justice opinion is that states are now free to do whatever they wish with respect to Internet gambling, except for, of course, sports betting," Fleming told the committee. "This opens up an entire Pandora's box of possibilities."
A Senator from Colorado, Mark Udall, also supported Porter's contention that Indian involvement was essential.
Legal academic Kevin Washburn suggested that the Department of Justice's recent revision of its policy on internet gambling in the context of the Wire Act had placed pressure on Congress for a federal solution; he felt that legalization by individual states was ‘schizophrenic' and impractical, and he noted that the tribes are dependent on gambling revenues and should be involved.
Fellow academic I. Nelson Rose opined that a state-by-state approach could mean the exclusion of the tribes unless state politicians included them. He said that few states do not have online ambitions and warned that New Jersey's plans included handing complete control of its intrastate online activity to the Atlantic City operators.
By contrast, he cited Connecticut, where it appeared possible that the tribes operating Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun would be given authority.
California, Rose said, was considering prohibitive license fees for online poker that could make it impossible for smaller tribes to compete.
Indian gaming lawyer Glenn Feldman urged politicians to be cautious and careful on the legalization issue, which has the potential to impact a diversity of state laws, compacts and businesses.
Other witnesses told the committee that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl are working on Internet gambling legalization that may involve legalising online poker.
They said that Kyl, traditionally a protagonist of internet gambling, recently told the publication National Journal that the Justice Department opinion may force Congress to clarify current law.