Niagara Falls, N.Y. - National Indian Gaming Association Member tribes came together to take part of the annual NIGA Mid-Year Conference membership meeting at the Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino in Niagara Falls, New York.
Chairman Stevens welcomed the Tribal membership and thanked the Seneca Nation for their great hospitality. "It is always great to be in New York amongst our Iroquois Brothers and Sisters. The Seneca Nation and their gaming facilities are one of the most excellent examples of Tribal government gaming, and we are glad to be here."
Seneca Nation President Maurice Johns also welcomed attendees, "Greetings and good health, welcome to our territory. I'd like to thank the leadership of NIGA and thank Chairman Stevens for the wonderful job he does in the field of gaming." Treasurer Todd Gates also greeted the crowd and thanked NIGA for staying on the offensive for Indian Gaming. Chairman Stevens then presented them both with an Outstanding Service to Indian Country Award.
During the Chairman's Report he addressed Internet Gaming and Daily Fantasy Sports and the need to be vigilant on recognition of Tribal Sovereignty. He also discussed dual taxation, Class II gaming regulation, Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act and the need for Tribal Leadership to make one last push in this Legislative Session to get enactment of this important law. In closing his report, Chairman Stevens spoke to the urgent need for the NIGA Membership and Associate Membership to contribute toward the retirement of the debt on the new building addition.
Adding to the Chairman's report, Jason Giles, National Indian Gaming Association Executive Director, followed with legislative updates, on several issues, including the Tribal Government Parity in the National Labor Relations Act, Restoration of the Tribal Homeland: Reversing Carcieri v. Salazar, Internet Gaming Legislation, the Implementation of the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act of 2014 and the proliferation of Daily Fantasy Sports across the nation and its impacts on Indian Gaming.
Vice-Chairman Kevin Leecy invited everyone to the 2017 Tradeshow in San Diego in April and went on to encourage the membership to contribute to the retirement of the debt on the NIGA building. He said, "Any means by which you can help would be great."
Andy Ebona, Treasure of the National Indian Gaming Association, provided a budget update to the membership tribes outlining the budget items significant to the 2017 operations of NIGA. He informed the membership that Chairman Stevens appointed a Building Fundraising Committee and that they will be implementing a plan to raise the funds to retire the debt on the building. He said, "It is very important for all of our partners to step up and assist."
NIGA Secretary Paulette Jordan, announced the establishment of a quorum with no objections from the body.
After the officer reports and in speaking of the tribal membership meeting, Chairman Stevens said, "One critical part of the success of Indian gaming is that Indian country is committed to helping each other, developing a unified voice. This is why it is important that we continue to come together as we do with our membership of the National Indian Gaming Association."
Stevens continued, "We continue to take our direction from our member tribes, and as we wind down our year, going down the stretch with our last legislative push, I guarantee that we will not leave Washington, DC until Congress goes home for the election season. We will continue to fight, right until the end."
The morning session also included presentations from gaming industry experts and tribal leadership. Victor Rocha, Owner & Editor of Pechanga.net and Arizona Indian Gaming Association Chairman, Louis Manuel provided updates and information on Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) - Gambling or Skill?". Mr. Rocha gave an overview of the history of DFS and its current impacts in Indian Gaming as it relates to legalization in many states and its defeat in a few states because of the Tribal lobby. Mr. Manuel discussed the defeat of legalizing DFS in Arizona based upon exclusivity clauses in Tribal Compacts.
Philip Baker-Shenk, Partner at Holland & Knight presented a session on "What Tax Issues Are Critical to Tribal Economic Development?" He stressed that Indian Country must come together with fearless determination to protect the tax immunity of tribal governments and to recognize their parity with other governments in issuing licensing, trade and commerce within their jurisdictions.
Indian Gaming policy leaders Mark Van Norman of VN Consulting and Dave Devendorf, Vice President of Nighthorse Consulting then provided legislative updates. Devendorf emphasized the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act and the joint effort of NIGA and NCAI in a final effort to get passage. Van Norman raised awareness of historical efforts of Indian Country to protect the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act from amendment and the reasons why this remains of such importance. He cautioned care as in the past, deals were attempted to be struck that were not in favor of Indian Gaming and that attempted to erode Tribal Sovereignty.
The Afternoon sessions of the tribal leadership opened with the presentation "What is Indian Gaming's Economic Impact?", led by Victor Rocha, Owner & Editor of Pechanga.net. The session included a powerhouse panel of Indian Country leadership including Seneca Nations of Indians President Maurice Johns, Brian Patterson, President of the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) and Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr. The high light of this panel being the benefits that Seneca Gaming brings to the State of New York. Seneca gaming sees 15 million visitors per year, they have achieved four diamond hotel status with over 1,000 rooms, they provide jobs and benefits for 4,000 employees, they are the fifth largest employer in the area and they provide 16,000 jobs across New York state.
John Lewis, Chairman of the Board of the Gila River Indian Community Utility Authority, presented "Climate Change: New Solutions coming from Indian Country." And the National Indian Gaming Commission followed with general updates from the NIGC. Updates included discussion of NIGC's role in protecting Tribal Assets, growth of the Indian Gaming Industry, the proposed maximum civil penalty rule and an announcement of Travis Waldo being named the permanent Director of the NIGC Technology Division. Representatives of the NIGC included NIGC Chairman Jonodev Chaudhuri, Vice Chair Kathryn Isom-Claus and Sequoyah Simermeyer, Associate Commissioner of the NIGC.
Following the NIGC's session, the NIGA tribal membership meetings concluded with the "Forecasting the 2016 Election." The panel included moderator, Paulette Jordan, Idaho State Representative, Panelists, Rion Ramirez, with the Democratic National Committee's Native American Council, John Harte, of the Mapetsi Policy Group and David Z. Bean, Councilman of the Pullayup Tribe. John Harte gave an overview of the states that are at a "toss up" for determining Congressional and Senate seats and discussed what is at stake in the Presidential election for Indian Country. These included carrying on the successes of the Obama Administration, democratic vs republican administration coming in and the naming of the next Supreme Court Justice. Rion Ramirez challenged the audience that this election is all about us, Indian Country. He said, "We have to get out and make the difference for our communities." Closing out the discussion, David Bean shared the words of historic Tribal Leader, Billy Frank, "Tell your story, tell your story, tell your story." He said, "Not only do we need to focus on the National picture, but we must pay attention to the State and Local levels as well. We need to support Tribal Candidates wherever they are."
The member tribe meeting concluded with the retrieval of color by the Seneca Veterans group.
The next NIGA member tribe meeting will be held during the annual Indian Gaming Tradeshow on April 10-13, 2016 at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California.