New Senate committee incorporates tribes into policymaking

By Eastern Arizona Courier

Members of the new state Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Indian Affairs met for the first time in Phoenix on July 15. On the committee is San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler, second from left.

Members of the new state Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Indian Affairs met for the first time in Phoenix on July 15. On the committee is San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler, second from left.

PHOENIX — A new state Senate committee made its debut July 15.

The Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Indian Affairs is designed as a joint undertaking between the state and the tribes. State Sen. Carlyle Begay, D-Ganado, said he launched the committee as a way to foster crucial relationships and open communication between tribal leaders and state government.

“There are 22 tribal communities in Arizona, and it’s essential that we bridge the gap between the tribes and state government so we can work together on some of Arizona’s prominent issues, such as Indian gaming and water rights,” Begay said. “This committee seeks to improve communications and build a sense of trust between Arizona’s tribal citizens, communities and governments.”

Tribal issues often cut across party lines, so with this in mind, the committee was formed with Democrats, Republicans and tribal leaders as members to ensure balanced views and perspectives.

“I want to thank the state Senate for establishing the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Indian Affairs and including tribal leaders. Today our discussions centered on Indian education, and I am hopeful that this is a new era of collaboration between the state of Arizona and Indian tribes. This will not only provide education and awareness, but a joint partnership on improving relations between governments,” said San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler,

During the first meeting, the committee received reports from the Arizona Department of Education on the status of Native American education, on the activities of the ADE Native American Advisory Council and from the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools.

The committee also heard presentations regarding Native American Joint Technical Education District (JTED) program funding and the Indian School Bus Routes Maintenance Program. Representatives from the Goldwater Institute updated the committee on the status of the Indian Child Welfare Act lawsuit. Finally, the committee heard testimony from the public.

The next Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Indian Affairs will be in August.

Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act moves forward after markup session

capitol hill, congress

By Kim Morrison, World Casino News

H.R.511 gains momentum as members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce attend the July 22, 2015 markup session which was packed with members of the National Indian Gaming Association in Washington, D.C., for a legislative summit.

The Act which exempts tribes and their casinos from the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act was passed on Wednesday at the short markup session on Capitol Hill.

According to the Chairman of the Committee, Rep. John Kline (R-Minnesota) who introduced the bill, “it’s not about big business versus big labor and it’s not about Republican versus Democrat.”

Kline went on to add that “the bill we are considering today is about whether Native Americans should be free to govern employee-employer relations in a way they determine is best for their workplace.”

In what Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Indiana) described as a “bipartisan, commonsense proposal that will provide legal certainty to the Native American community,” the Act would exempt tribes and their casinos from the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), and prohibit the National Labor Relations Board from asserting jurisdiction at those businesses.

Rokita also went on to state that the Act would give authority back to tribal leaders and end the National Labor Review Board’s (NLRB) overreach, and restore the standard that was in place long before the National Labor Relations Board made the misguided decision to change course. An amendment in the nature of a substitute to clarify that tribal governments are also exempt from the NLRA, was offered by Rokita.

Opposition to the Sovereignty Act was voiced by the only Democrats present, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin), Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Connecticut) and Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas), who accused Republicans and their allies of using tribal sovereignty as a smokescreen to attack the NLRB.

Representative Pocan accused proponents of the bill, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, of endorsing the bill in an attempt to help destroy the NLRB rather than support for the sovereignty of the tribes.

The three also noted that most employees of tribal casinos are non-Indians and argued that the bill will degrade labor standards Indian Country.

Although it hasn’t been taken up by the full Senate, on June 10th the Senate Indian Affairs Committee approved S.248, its version of the bill which is gaining traction among lawmakers from both parties.

At that legislative summit which opened Tuesday on Capitol Hill (hosted by the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA)), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) stressed that every conversation about gaming should begin by stating that gaming is not something that the federal government authorized you to do, but a sovereign right.

She added that, “If the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act went away tomorrow, you would still be able to conduct gaming,”

Exemption from the NLRA has been sought after by the tribes ever since a 2004 ruling in which the NLRB asserted jurisdiction over Indian Country for the first time in decades, but efforts to address the issue ran into serious opposition from Democrats and their labor union allies at that time.

Since that 2004 ruling, tribes have won support from key Democrats by pitching the issue as one of parity with other governments, and with Republicans in control of the House and Senate, the bill has moved quickly in the 114th Congress.

The bill would resolve uncertainties like the one that arose in early June when the NLRB declined to assert jurisdiction at the WinStar World Casino and Resort, a casino owned by the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, citing the tribe’s treaty-protected right to self-governance.

Less than a week later, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals backed the NLRB’s jurisdiction over the Little River Casino and Resort, a casino owned by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in Michigan, and three weeks later, expressing serious doubts about the application of the NLRA in Indian Country, the same court rejected the treaty claims of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe, also in Michigan.

The U.S. federal law that establishes the jurisdictional framework that governs Indian gaming, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), has been a source of extensive controversy and litigation since it was passed in 1988.

Approval given for gambling compacts with New Mexico tribes

SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Gambling compacts negotiated by the state and a handful of American Indian tribes have cleared their final hurdle.

The U.S. Interior Department reviewed the compacts but took no action. Under federal law, the agreements are considered approved by the agency as long as they’re consistent with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

The assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, Kevin Washburn, spelled out some concerns the department had with the compacts in a four-page letter sent Tuesday to Gov. Susana Martinez and tribal leaders.

Washburn pointed to an apparent increase in revenue sharing rates for some tribes, but he acknowledged that the agreements had the support of the tribes.

Under the compacts, the Navajo Nation, Jicarilla and Mescalero Apache nations and three pueblos can operate casinos for another two decades.

Connecticut’s Governor Tried To Crack Down On Predatory Lending And Got Accused Of Being Racist

dannel-malloy-ap-638x430

CT Gov. Dannel Malloy (D)
CREDIT: AP

By Alan Pyke, Think Progress

As federal officials attempt to thread the needle between restricting predatory lending and ensuring that emergency loans remain available to America’s poorest, they’re trying to create a new and adaptable system of rules. But in one state, the traditional approach to payday lending is producing a strange public relations fight between lawmakers, a governor, Native American tribes, and a mysterious D.C.-based conservative PAC.

Months after Connecticut regulators imposed a large fine on an unlicensed internet lender, a series of billboards showed up near the state’s highways accusing Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) of attacking the economic future of American Indians. The campaign made a big splash in a state that has two Indian-run casinos, and reportedly even featured a billboard in New York City’s Times Square. But nobody’s sure who is really paying for the billboards, and both Connecticut’s own tribes and the Otoe-Missouria insist they are not involved.

Connecticut is one of 15 states that uses a low interest rate cap to effectively ban payday lending. But an online lender affiliated with the Oklahoma-based tribe found a way into the Nutmeg State anyway.

 The state responded with a $1.5 million fine, $700,000 of it charged personally to Otoe-Missouria tribe chairman John Shotton. A judge rejected the Otoe-Missouria’s argument that its tribal sovereignty prevented Connecticut regulations from applying to its corporate partners. It is the second time in the past couple of years that a court has found that borrowing a tribal group’s name and legal authorities does not give a payday lending company immunity from regulation. Such partnerships remain rare – just 63 out of more than 560 federally recognized tribes have opened payday lending partnerships – but they return a tiny proportion of lending revenues to actual Native Americans in exchange for the theoretically legal indemnity the partnerships afford to the businesses that make the real money.

The fines were announced in January, but the billboards have put them in the news again. The signs are just one piece of an inflammatory campaign against Malloy backed by a D.C.-area conservative nonprofit with anonymous donors. Billboards, direct mail ads, and online communications paid for by the Institute for Liberty (IFL) accuse Malloy of destroying the economic future of native peoples. The group publicly accused Malloy of “bigotry against Native Americans” and operates a website replete with vaguely-captioned stock photos of people in stereotypically tribal garb. A journalist named Johnnie Jae who managed to contact the individuals in the stock photos told ThinkProgress that “the regalia is authentic, [but] the main issue is that these families had no idea these images were being used for this campaign and were appalled.”

IFL President Andrew Langer told ThinkProgress the group has been following payday lending regulations “for a good 18 months now” and said their focus is on the sovereignty of the tribes involved in cases like the Connecticut one. “We think this tribe has a right to engage in this business, and we think the state of Connecticut has no legal authority to go after them,” Langer said.

When the legal theory around tribally-affiliated lending evaporated in a Connecticut courtroom earlier this year, it set off a strange firestorm in the state that might end up further tightening Connecticut’s laws on the loans.

State Rep. Matt Lesser (D) is sponsoring a bill he hopes will sharpen the state regulations that made the $1.5 million fine possible. Current law limits the penalties for violating Connecticut’s interest rate laws to the amount by which the customer was overcharged. “We’re taking it a step further and saying that any loan that exceeds the cap, the Department of Banking can declare it unenforceable, null-and-void,” Lesser told ThinkProgress. “We’re hoping it creates that extra incentive for these payday loansharks to respect our laws and stay out of our state.”

Because IFL is a 501(c)4 nonprofit, it does not have to disclose who is financing its attacks on Malloy. “I will neither confirm nor deny that we’ve received money from tribal industries or payday lending companies,” he said, “but I will say that if they are supporting us I wish they’d support us more.”

“They deny that it’s the Koch brothers, for whatever that’s worth,” Lesser said. “You can sort of look at who benefits and draw your own conclusion.” The two national trade associations who have the most direct interest – the Native American Financial Services Association (NAFSA) and the Online Lending Assocation (OLA) – each emphatically denied involvement to ThinkProgress, with NAFSA’s spokesperson adding that the IFL campaign has “done more harm than good” to the Otoe-Missouria’s cause.

Enforcing rate caps like Connecticut’s can be important to protecting consumers, Pew Charitable Trusts small-dollar lending expert Alex Horowitz told ThinkProgress, but they’re not the only option. “Rate caps are important and states should continue to set them. If they don’t want payday lenders to operate in the state, they should set them at 36 percent or less,” he said. But a more flexible sliding rate cap system like the one in Colorado has kept credit available in emergencies and pushed average interest rates on the loans down to 115 percent – extremely expensive, but about a third of what unregulated states routinely see.

The fallout from Connecticut’s decision is coming just as federal regulators are in the process of writing the first-ever national code for payday lending, auto-title lending, and other forms of expensive small-dollar credit.

The fines are “kind of a traditional tactic,” Horowitz said, “but they’re doing it very aggressively.” Applying that classical enforcement approach gets a bit slippery when the lender is attached to a tribe. The Connecticut dispute, Horowitz said, “underscores why the CFPB’s rules are so important. While there’s been some uncertainty in the courts about how to handle state-tribe disputes, it’s clear that a federal rule from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau trumps the other ones and would set a floor on rules for all of these.”

With its new regulations, the agency seeks to balance genuine consumer demand for emergency loans with the public interest in preventing the most predatory and abusive features of the traditional business model. While many states have taken Connecticut’s approach of preventing payday lenders from operating in any form, a handful of others have attempted the kind of hybrid system that CFPB is now aiming to build into federal law. The final rules are years away, but they will likely be modeled on the approach that states like Colorado take: limit the cost of these loans, prohibit the most egregious fine-print tricks lenders use, but make sure this lending remains economically viable so that desperate low-income people have somewhere to turn.

The idea that tightly-regulated payday loan shops can be a genuinely valuable service for the poor may need a lot more time to sink in in places like Connecticut that have decided a ban would be better.

“When you talk to folks [about] how they wound up paying these back,” Lesser said, “it’s often by doing the things they probably should’ve done in the first place. Turn to family and friends and existing resources to make up that difference.”

“Poverty stinks. It’s tough. But eventually people are going to have to reckon with the cycle of poverty and debt these guys are foisting on them.”

Seminole Tribe’s Hard Rock Casting a Big Shadow in Wisconsin

Hard Rock, Wisconsin, a conceptual drawing

Hard Rock, Wisconsin, a conceptual drawing

By Nancy Smith, Sunshine State News

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has proposed a partnership between its Hard Rock International casinos and the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin, a deal that could channel millions of dollars in profits from the Badger State back to Florida.

The proposal to open an $808 million casino complex at a now-shuttered, off-reservation dog track in Kenosha is in the hands of Gov. Scott Walker. The Menominee say they need a cash partner or they can’t get their casino off the ground.

Talks between the Seminoles and Menominee have been going on for more than a year. Frank Fantini, CEO of the Fantini Gaming Report, called Hard Rock “a very big brand, known internationally. The brand has a great reputation … it would give immediate visibility to the casino in Kenosha.”

Even though the Wisconsin Menominee are among the poorest Native American people in the country, winning approval from Gov. Walker is still viewed as dicey. The governor has said he would approve the Kenosha casino only if each of the state’s other 10 tribes blessed the proposition — effectively giving each tribe veto power over the proposal. He also has said a tribe must show that an off-reservation casino would result in “no new net gaming.”

Two of the 11 tribes, both with casinos — the Forest County Potawatomi and the Ho-Chunk — so far have refused to endorse the project, saying the Hard Rock will siphon off too large a share of their profits.

Wisconsin Indian gaming is a $1 billion industry, with $50 million going to the state.

Amy Marsh, an aide at the Wisconsin Capitol, told Sunshine State News, “Gov. Walker has until Feb. 19 to make a decision, but meanwhile the tribes have to work out their differences.”

The Seminoles-Menominee partnership would mark the first time for any out-of-state tribe to manage a casino in Wisconsin.

Hard Rock International CEO Jim Allen claims the site would be a regional draw.

“We believe there are a tremendous amount of people in the state of Wisconsin today who are going to casinos in Illinois,” Allen says. “We think a facility so close to the Illinois border will bring those people back to the state of Wisconsin and bring back those jobs and revenues to the state of Wisconsin.”

Allen says there have been talks with the dissenting tribes about revenue-sharing, the talks have gone well and he’s hopeful his team can get everybody on board.

The agreement between the Menominee and Hard Rock — including the percentage of profits the Florida Seminoles tribe would receive — has been kept under wraps.

“The question is, do we really want that revenue from the casino … being sent to Florida?” asked Richard Monette, a University of Wisconsin-Madison law professor. “That percentage becomes key, and those factors should be public.”

He predicts Hard Rock would expect to receive 30-to-35 percent of the Kenosha casino’s total revenue, and as much as 40 percent. Monette is also director of the Great Lakes Indian Law Center.

Not all stakeholders are impressed with the Seminoles or think they should be anywhere near the Wisconsin tribal gaming industry.

The Milwaukee media have given a lot of exposure to public filings from the National Indian Gaming Commission, showing the Seminole Tribe has paid more than $12 million in fines handed down by the federal government since 1997 — more than any other tribe in the nation.

It has, for example, left George Ermert, spokesman for the Potawatomi, expressing “serious concerns” about the Seminoles being involved in Wisconsin’s tribal gaming industry.

“There are some serious issues with leadership,” Ermert told Shereen Siewert of the Gannett Wisconsin Media Investigative Team. “We’re talking about FBI investigations, leaders who have been indicted on charges of conspiracy, embezzlement, money laundering. (Seminole Tribe Chairman) James Billie himself was tossed from office because of the things he did.”

The Seminole Tribe of Florida acquired the Hard Rock corporation for nearly $1 billion in 2007. Hard Rock has 174 venues in 54 countries, including 138 cafes, 17 hotels and seven casinos, according to the company.

The Seminoles operate six casinos in Florida, two of which use the Hard Rock name. Combined, the Florida casinos have about 12,500 slot machines and 340 table games.

The 11 Wisconsin tribes share a percentage of their casino profits. These per capita payments — dispensed evenly to enrolled tribal members — are among the perks of successful Indian gaming ventures.

But of all 11 tribes, the Menominee give the least to individuals — about $75 a year in 2012, for example. The Potawatomi, by comparison, paid each tribal member $80,000 in 2012.

Gannett reports that the Menominee have pledged to spend gaming revenue on human and social services — including college scholarships — if their Kenosha proposal is approved.

Tester Examines Indian Gaming 25 Years After the Indian Gamiing Regulatory Act

Source: United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

 

U.S. SENATE – Nearly 25 years following the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) held a hearing today to examine the current state of tribal gaming.   Congress passed IGRA in 1988 to regulate gaming on Indian lands.
 
“Indian gaming has come a long way in the 25 years since IGRA was enacted,” Tester said.   “While gaming is not a cure-all for the challenges facing Indian Country, it has provided numerous benefits to the communities who operate successful facilities.  We need to make sure all tribal nations can determine the best possible future for their people, whether that’s gaming or not.”
 
Indian gaming is conducted in 28 states by 43 percent of the 566 federally recognized tribes.   Tribal governments employ nearly 6,000 gaming regulators and States employ approximately 570 regulators.  At the federal level, the National Indian Gaming Commission employs more than 100 regulators and related staff members.
 
Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary Indian Affairs, at the Department of the Interior, assessed the current state of Indian gaming. “We frequently face a misperception that tribes are acquiring land and opening gaming facilities at a fast pace. The growth numbers alone belie this argument. Of the over 1,700 successful trust acquisitions processed since the beginning of the Obama administration in 2009, fewer than 15 were for gaming purposes and even fewer were for off-reservation gaming purposes.” 
 
Michell Hicks, Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians spoke of the transformation his tribe experienced due to successful gaming operations.  “The Cherokee Preservation Foundation, funded by gaming revenues to create new businesses and initiatives, has contributed a leveraged impact of about $99 million for additional social improvements, environmental enhancements, workforce development, and cultural preservation in the region.  With gaming dollars, the tribe spent $5 million on a downtown revitalization project, $13 million on affordable housing, and $20 million on a new justice center.” 
 
National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernest Stevens said, “Nationwide, Indian gaming is a proven job creator.  Indian gaming delivered over 665,000 direct and indirect American jobs in 2013 alone. Indian gaming has provided many Native Americans with their first opportunity at work at home on the reservation.  Just as importantly, jobs on the reservation generated by Indian gaming are bringing back entire families that had moved away.”
 
A. T. Stafne, Chairman of Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of Fort Peck, noted that despite the success of many gaming operations, gaming has not been the economic solution for all tribes.  “Despite the success of some tribes, Indian gaming has provided little benefit to many tribes. Geographical location is a barrier for economic development of any kind, and certainly Indian gaming is not immune from geographical limitations.”
 
Senator Tester reiterated his commitment to tribal sovereignty and self-governance and noted that Indian gaming has made a substantial difference for many tribes.  He is monitoring ongoing research on the state of Indian gaming from the Government Accountability Office.
 
Background
 
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) was enacted in 1988 to provide a statutory basis for the regulation of gaming on Indian lands.  The Act established the following three classes of gaming:
 
• Class I gaming consists of social gaming solely for nominal prizes or traditional gaming played in connection with tribal ceremonies or celebrations and is regulated solely by tribes and not subject to IGRA.
 
• Class II gaming includes bingo, pull-tabs, punch boards, and certain card games and is regulated by the tribes and the Commission.
 
• Class III gaming includes all other forms of gaming, including casino games and slot machines, and although both Interior and the Commission play a role in overseeing certain aspects of Class III gaming, it is regulated by the tribes and the states pursuant to compacts.

U.S. Senators Urged to Act on Bill to Preserve Future of Indian Gaming in Arizona

 

H.R. 1410 will uphold current compacts, the will of the voters and tribal commitments 

Source: Casino Arizona/Talking Stick

 

PHOENIX.—July 23, 2014— Congress has the power to intervene in a growing national practice and problem of ‘off-reservation gaming,’ or ‘reservation-shopping.’ The topic was at the heart of an oversight hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs today, titled, “Indian Gaming: The Next 25 Years,” and included discussion of H.R. 1410—the bi-partisan bill to solve the problem faced by the city of Glendale in Arizona, that will protect the integrity of Indian Gaming in the state, but would also be a beacon to cities and towns across the U.S. that find themselves in similar circumstances.

A prelude to a vote on H.R. 1410 by the U.S. Senate, today’s hearing included testimony from Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) President, Diane Enos and City of Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers, excerpts from their testimony follow, full transcripts can be found at www.indian.senate.gov.  

SRPMIC President, Diane Enos opened her remarks, by saying, “For over 20 years Arizona Indian Gaming has been stable, predictable, and successful.  However, sadly, its future in Arizona does not look good.  It is threatened by the actions of one tribe.  H.R. 1410, the “Keep the Promise Act,” which is pending before the Committee, will help protect Indian gaming in Arizona.  We respectfully urge the Committee to pass it.”

SRPMIC President explained to the Senators that private non-Indian gaming companies were always hovering over Arizona looking for an opportunity, a loophole, to overthrow Indian Gaming exclusivity, but that today, that exclusivity, and the current Indian Gaming compacts were jeopardized from within, by the Tohono O’odham Nation:  

“This plan by the Tohono O’odham of building an additional casino in the Phoenix-metro area directly violates promises that they made, that other Arizona tribes made, and that the Governor of Arizona made to citizens who approved our compacts in November 2002,” stated Enos.  In 2002, then-Governor Jane D. Hull announced that the compacts she and 17 tribes had negotiated for two and a half years  – if approved by the voters – would ensure  there would be “no additional casinos allowed in the Phoenix metropolitan area”.  This promise of “no additional casinos in the Phoenix-metro area” was made by Tribes and the Governor over and over to the voters, Enos said, “because we believed it.”

City of Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers addressed the powerlessness of local government in this situation, saying, “Our choice was not ideal: continue to fight and hope for action from this body, or give in to this casino being forced on us.  It is frustrating to be a city of our size and have no voice on a casino proposed by a tribal government more than a hundred miles away.”

Weiers also spoke up about what this means for other cities, “Our sister cities know that unless Congress acts, they may be next.  There are over 200 other county islands in the Phoenix metropolitan area.  And the Tohono O’odham Nation attorneys have said the Tribe has the right to close its existing three casinos and open them on these county islands.  We are a test case, but it is the start of a very slippery slope.  If Congress does not act, the entire Phoenix area should be prepared for more off-reservation casinos.”

Spokane County seeks second federal study of Airway Heights casino

By Mike Prager, Tom Sowa, The Spokesman-Review

Spokane Tribe proposed casino resortSpokane County commissioners are asking the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to take a new look at possible negative impacts of a proposed Spokane tribal casino on Fairchild Air Force Base.In a recent letter to the BIA, commissioners said information has surfaced indicating that an “accident potential zone” could be extended into the area where the tribe is proposing its casino-resort.The commissioners’ letter says new information provided to the county under the Freedom of Information Act supports their request for another look at the project. They want a new study to include “outstanding questions regarding the safety of the Spokane Tribe’s proposed casino-resort project in Airway Heights,” the letter said.County commissioners have hired the law firm of Perkins Coie LLP with experts in Washington, D.C., to prepare their challenge to the casino project, as well as former U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, of Spokane.

Commissioner Al French said he didn’t have the cost of hiring those outside consultants immediately available, but confirmed it is a substantial amount.

“This is something we are very concerned about as a board,” French said, pointing out that Fairchild contributes $1.3 billion to the region’s economy each year.

Spokane Tribe officials say the casino – part of its Spokane Tribe Economic Project – would create jobs and benefits for tribal members and attract more businesses to Airway Heights, where the proposed project would be built.

The tribe also commissioned a detailed study, prepared by Madison Government Affairs, which claimed the casino would have no adverse effects on the air base.

A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Indian Affairs said Tuesday that the agency received the commissioners’ letter and added it to the official record being reviewed.

A year ago, county commissioners submitted more than 50 pages of comments against the casino proposal, arguing it could endanger the future of Fairchild, the area’s largest employer.

The BIA allowed comments for and against the proposal to be submitted through May 1, 2013.

Since then, the tribe’s application has been reviewed by the Office of Indian Gaming in Washington, D.C. The department has not said when it might issue a ruling on the application. If approved by Kevin Washburn, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs in the Interior Department, the casino would also require approval by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Commissioners say new reviews of Fairchild flight paths suggest the proposed casino would be inside an accident potential zone that wasn’t identified in the initial environmental impact statement.

Fairchild has established accident potential zones at the end of the base runway that extend in a straight line from the runway through portions of Airway Heights, south of U.S. Highway 2. The tribe’s environmental impact statement relied on the existing crash zones, which the commissioners now argue are inadequate.

Those accident zones were based on a 2007 study, which did not account for prevalent training patterns to the north of Fairchild, the commissioners’ letter said.

Charts of flight patterns show that pilots using visual flight rules often make sharp turns over the proposed casino site during takeoffs and landings. The racetrack-shaped pattern on the north side of the main runway goes directly over the casino site.

“The casino project is located right under that racetrack,” French said.

The amount of overhead air traffic qualifies the casino area for protection as an accident potential zone, commissioners argued in the 63-page letter.

County officials said they recently discovered a 2011 Department of Defense instruction that says, “Where multiple flight tracks exist and significant numbers of aircraft operations are on multiple flight tracks, modifications may be made to create (accident potential zones) that conform to the multiple flight tracks.”

The letter also states that comments from the Air Force obtained through the federal Freedom of Information Act show the flight-pattern conflicts are more extensive than indicated in the final environmental impact statement.

Civilian encroachment is one factor considered by the Air Force in its periodic reviews of air bases for potential closure.

The commissioners have taken steps in recent years to address encroachment by leading a multiagency rewrite of zoning laws to provide buffers for Fairchild. Last fall, they asked voters to raise their property taxes to buy manufactured home parks in the existing crash zones, but the measure was rejected. However, a state grant is being used to buy the former Solar World housing, which has been cleared of occupants.

Gaming companies have lucrative deals operating Indian casinos

by Howard Stutz, Las Vegas Business Press

Newly expanded Harrah's Rincon Casino & Resort in San Diego. (PRNewsFoto)

Newly expanded Harrah’s Rincon Casino & Resort in San Diego. (PRNewsFoto)

New casino development in Las Vegas is on lockdown.

Gaming expansion into states beyond recently approved markets is virtually nonexistent.

Those are two reasons regional casino giant and M Resort owner Penn National Gaming struck a deal with a San Diego-area Indian tribe to develop a long-stalled casino complex in Southern California.

A third reason is simple.

Penn National, which has 29 casinos nationwide, views the planned $360 million Hollywood Casino Jamul as an opportunity to increase its customer base in an untapped market. The development is 20 miles east of downtown San Diego, California’s second-largest city and the eighth-most populous city the U.S.

“We love the location and it’s a new way for us to cultivate a whole new set of customers,” Penn National Chief Operating Officer Jay Snowden said of the property, which is being built in partnership with the Jamul Village Indian Tribe.

In addition to the 390-room M Resort, Penn’s other Western casino is the Zia Park Racetrack in New Mexico.

“We’re eager for any opportunities to grow the company,” Snowden said.

The idea of the commercial casino industry striking management deals with Indian tribes isn’t new.

Station Casinos manages two Indian casinos — one each in California and Michigan — and has a deal for another Indian gaming project in central California. The company helped build and operate one of Northern California’s largest Indian casinos from 2003 to 2010 when the management contract expired.

Caesars Entertainment Corp. operates Indian casinos in California, Arizona and North Carolina.

“We’re very happy with the three partnerships we have cultivated,” Caesars Central Division President John Payne said. “The customers have been a great addition to our network. The facilities have developed into tourist destinations, not just pure casinos.”

Payne said customer activity at the Harrah’s-branded casinos near San Diego, outside Phoenix and in northern North Carolina are recorded within the company’s Total Rewards program. The locations allow Caesars to market the company’s properties in destination markets, such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

“Some of these partnerships are decades old,” Payne said. “We’ve worked hard to further those relationships.”

BIG BUSINESS

Indian gaming is far from penny ante.

In 2011, Indian casinos nationwide produced $27.4 billion in gaming revenue, according to Casino City’s 2013 Indian Gaming Industry Report. With 460 tribal casinos in 28 states, it takes more than a year for a California economist to compile the statistics.

California, which had 68 tribal casinos in 2011, is the nation’s largest Indian gaming market, producing more than $6.91 billion in gaming revenue in 2011 — accounting for more than 25 percent of the nation’s total.

Those figures caught the eye of the commercial casino industry.

Las Vegas hasn’t seen a resort open since 2010. Redevelopment projects, such as the SLS Las Vegas and Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall, will reopen shuttered facilities. Construction of the $2 billion Resorts World Las Vegas — on the former Stardust-Echelon site — is expected to begin sometime this year and take more than two years to complete.

Nationally, Massachusetts was the last all-new market to approve casinos in 2011. There has been discussion of gaming expansion into other states, but nothing has come to fruition.

Indian gaming can be another growth market, along with riverboats and racetracks.

“We view Indian gaming in the same manner as we look at other development pipelines,” Snowden said.

Jamul will be Penn’s first casino for an American Indian tribe. The company has operated Casino Rama in Ontario on reservation land for the Chippewas of Rama First Nation since 1996.

Victor Rocha, editor of Pechanga.net, said small tribes often see their project come to fruition quicker with the help of a traditional commercial casino corporation.

“A lot of tribes are more aggressive to get something done,” Rocha said. “Anything that’s a big risk can also have big rewards.”

The Jamul tribe first signed its compact with California in 1999, but the size of the casino site was reduced dramatically by changes in federal law.

“It’s not much more than a postage stamp,” Rocha said of the 6-acre parcel.

Rocha added that partnering with a company the size of Penn, which can develop a Hollywood casino brand to fit the location, makes better financial sense for a tribe, rather than attempt the project alone.

Las Vegas gaming attorney Jennifer Carleton of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck spent 10 years as in-house counsel for a Wisconsin Indian casino. Since moving to Las Vegas, she has found herself increasingly advising the firm’s gaming clients on Indian gaming law.

The tribes benefit from major casino companies that have investment banking and financial connections to provide the development funds. The tribes also gain a partner with a large database of customers and the expertise to manage the casino.

“There are not as many potential developments as there were 10 years ago,” Carleton said. “For the tribes, a third party can often provide access to other areas, such as the technology for social media and online capabilities.”

The drawback with tribal gaming, however, is that development often takes place at a slower pace than with traditional commercial casino development. Approvals are needed from state and local governments, and federal agencies.

A 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling changed the way tribes were federally recognized. The primary switch was that the federal government could no longer take land into trust from tribes that were recognized after 1934, which slowed casino development possibilities.

“Navigating the land issues can be expensive and politically charged for the tribe,” Carleton said.

NO NEW PROJECTS

Payne said Caesars isn’t actively looking for new tribal projects, but is focused on expanding and developing its current partnerships.

Harrah’s Rincon in northern San Diego County with the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians has 662 hotel rooms and a 55,000-square-foot casino. Harrah’s Ak Chin, located in southern Phoenix for Ak Chin Indian Community, has 300 hotel rooms and a 40,000-square-foot casino. Both properties have other entertainment amenities, such dining and spa facilities, that add to the destination resort complex.

In North Carolina, Harrah’s and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians announced plans last year for a second resort that will have a 300-room hotel and 60,000 square feet of gaming space. The property will be in Murphy, N.C., 60 miles west of the original Harrah’s Cherokee, which has 1,200 rooms and a 90,000-square-foot casino. The resort is considered the state’s largest hotel.

“We’re not pursuing any new Indian developments at this time, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen,” Payne said.

Station Casinos operates the Gun Lake Casino near Grand Rapids, Mich., for the Gun Lake Tribe of Pottawatomi Indians and the $800 million Graton Resort & Casino, which opened in November near Santa Rosa, Calif., for the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Tribe.

Station Casinos had one of the gaming industry’s first development deals with a California Indian tribe when the company opened Thunder Valley near Sacramento, Calif., for the United Auburn Tribe in 2003.

Last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that allows the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians to move forward with the planned $350 million project with Station Casinos near a major state highway and Madera, Calif., about 25 miles north of Fresno.

However, an opposition group — which is financially backed by two competing Indian tribes — qualified a statewide ballot referendum for California’s November election that could kill the project.

Mashpee Wampanoag tribe gets federal approval

by Ray Poirier, Gaming Today

Mashpee_Wampanoag_Taunton_casino_200x100A Massachusetts Native American tribe has eliminated one of two major hurdles as it pursues the one and only Indian casino license included in that state’s expansion of gambling.

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs has approved a gaming compact negotiated by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and Gov. Deval Patrick. An earlier compact was rejected by the feds as not including enough revenue for the tribe.

Under the current terms the state will receive 17 percent of gambling revenues, provided there are other casinos operating in the state.

The second test will come when the tribe seeks federal approval for them to secure land-in-trust in Taunton where the tribe plans to locate a casino.