WASHINGTON, D.C. -October 9, 2017 - NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr., told a panel of U.S. Senators that Indian gaming is helping bring a new generation of leaders to Indian Country.
"A little more than 30 years [after the Cabazon and Morongo decision]-Indian gaming has responsibly grown into a $31 billion industry that is rebuilding our communities, educating a generation of new Native leaders, and providing jobs to hundreds of thousands of American families. I can't say enough about the investments that tribes have made in education. Where 30 years ago, we relied on outsiders to serve as our doctors, lawyers, and other professionals-today, we're educating our young leaders, and they're returning to serve their communities."
Other tribal leaders, including Forest Co. Potawatomi Chairman Gus Frank, Quechen Indian Tribe President Keeny Escalanti, Sr., and Suquamish Tribe Chairman Leonard Forsman, also shared the positive impacts of Indian gaming to their communities, including preserving tribal culture, land restoration, and job creation. They added that the benefits of Indian gaming spread beyond reservation boundaries, helping provide sorely needed jobs to nearby rural communities and improving intergovernmental relationships.
The Senate hearing took place in Washington, D.C. in part to acknowledge the 30-year anniversary of the historic California v. Cabazon decision (1987), which upheld the inherent right of tribal governments to conduct gaming on Indian lands free of interference from state governments.
Interior Department witness John Tahsuda, Acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, recognized the benefits of Indian gaming, but took time to raise potential concerns. "While gaming has great potential to improve economic conditions for tribal and non-tribal communities, it can also introduce new complications to communities, including a drain on local resources, increased traffic, visitation, and crime...."
The Interior Department's testimony failed to acknowledge the work of thousands of dedicated tribal government gaming regulators in addressing these and many other concerns. NIGA Chairman Stevens corrected the record on this front, informingsenators that Indian Country remains on cutting edge when it comes to regulating and protecting tribal government gaming operations. "Because of the multiple surveillance cameras and security personnel in place, our Indian gaming operations are often the safest location in tribal communities." Stevens added:
"We're using technology and improving coordination with state and federal law enforcement not only on Indian lands but in nearby communities. Our Tribal Gaming Protection Network, made up of tribal gaming professionals, has been in place for 10 years now. The TGPN has and will continue to provide active shooter training, seminars on security and surveillance, human trafficking, and other courses on violence prevention."
NIGC Chairman Jonodev Chaudhuri also countered regulatory concerns raised at the hearing. He informed the Senate Committee about the agency's proactive approach to regulation, noting that the Commission established its Division of Technology in 2015 in part to stay ahead of the technology curve and prevent and mitigate IT vulnerabilities. Chairman Chaudhuri also cited the agency's anti-human trafficking efforts and active shooter trainings that are conducted in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security.
Looking to the future success of Indian gaming, NIGA Chairman Stevens urged the Committee to restore balance to the long-broken tribal-state compacting process. "Probably the most important key to our future success is for this Committee to begin the debate to fix the tribal-state compacting process that has been broken for more than two decades. We know this is not an easy lift, but we call on your leadership to begin a respectful debate to craft an alternative that will secure Indian gaming for the next 30 years."