WASHINGTON, April 29, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) Chairman Jonodev Chaudhuri announced Eric Shepard as the Commission’s General Counsel. Shepard has been acting General Counsel since September 2012. Shepard will continue to provide legal oversight, guidance and assistance to the Commission in carrying out its responsibilities under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
“I am grateful to Eric for his steadfast leadership as the acting General Counsel at a time of transition for the NIGC,” said Chaudhuri. “Eric has been a consistent source of counsel, legal insight, strategic thinking and collaborative spirit and he will continue to serve the NIGC well in the years ahead.”
Prior to joining the Office of General Counsel (OGC), Shepard was the Attorney General for the Colorado River Indian Tribes, for more than a decade. While in this position, he served as the chief legal officer and principal advisor to the Chairman and Tribal Council on litigation, federal and state legislative and regulatory affairs, land use and economic development proposals. Before serving the Colorado River Indian Tribes Shepard clerked for the Indian Country Environmental Justice Clinic and the Conservation Law Foundation, and served as a fellow at the Soros Open Society Institute in Bucharest, Romania.
“I am honored Chairman Chaudhuri has asked me to serve as the General Counsel of the NIGC,” said Shepard. “I look forward to continuing my work with the talented and committed attorneys and staff of the Office of General Counsel. I am committed to serving my client, the Commission, as well as maintaining and building relationships with tribes, tribal regulators, and the Indian gaming industry.”
WASHINGTON – Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today applauded President Obama’s intent to nominate Jonodev Osceola Chaudhuri to be the chair of the National Indian Gaming Commission, the federal agency tasked with collaborating with tribes and states to regulate Indian gaming.
“Jonodev brings a wealth of legal expertise and administrative and policy experience to this position, having served on the National Indian Gaming Commission, in tribal government and private practice Indian law,” said Jewell. “His broad perspective on American Indian affairs makes him a highly qualified candidate as commission chair where he will provide strong strategic leadership as the commission tackles the complex issues associated with supporting economic opportunities for Indian nations.”
The National Indian Gaming Commission is committed to the prompt and efficient regulation of the Indian gaming industry, which spans more than 420 gaming establishments, associated with nearly 240 tribes across 28 states. The Commission’s dedication to compliance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act ensures the integrity of the $27 billion Indian gaming industry.
Jonodev Osceola Chaudhuri is currently Vice Chairman and Associate Commissioner of the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), positions he has held since 2013. He also served as Acting Chairman of the NIGC from 2013 to April 2014. Prior to this position, Mr. Chaudhuri was Senior Counselor to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior from 2012 to 2013. He served as an Associate Judge on the Puyallup Tribe of Nations Court from 2011 to 2012, an Appellate Judge on the San Manuel Mission Band of Indians Appeals Court from 2009 to 2012 and an Appellate Judge on the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Supreme Court from 2006 to 2012.
Previously, he served as a Deputy Public Defender in the Maricopa County Public Defender’s Office from 2010 to 2011 and as Managing Attorney at the Chaudhuri Law Office, P.L.L.C. from 2006 to 2010. Mr. Chaudhuri also held Appellate Judge Appointments on the Gila River Indian Community Court of Appeals from 2008 to 2010 and on the Yavapai-Apache Nation Court of Appeals from 2005 to 2009. From 2001 to 2006, he served as an Associate at Snell & Wilmer, L.L.P. Prior to this, he served as a judicial clerk for the Honorable Noel Fidel on the Arizona Court of Appeals from 2000 to 2001 and a Judicial Clerk for the Honorable James Ackerman on the Arizona Court of Appeals from 1999 to 2000. Mr. Chaudhuri received a B.A. from Dartmouth College and a J.D. from Cornell Law School.
The NIGC was established by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 and comprises a chair and two commissioners, each of whom serves on a full-time basis for a three-year term. By law, at least two of the three commissioners must be enrolled members of a federally recognized Indian tribe, and no more than two members may be of the same political party. The chair is appointed by the President and must be confirmed by the Senate. The Secretary of the Interior appoints the other two commissioners. The NIGC is authorized to conduct investigations; undertake enforcement actions, including the issuance of notices of violation, assessment of civil fines and/or issuance of closure orders; conduct background investigations; conduct audits; and review and approve tribal gaming ordinances. For more information, visit www.nigc.gov.
Tribal sovereignty is the most valuable of all American Indian assets. Tribal governments’ inherent rights of self-government and self-determination are the foundation of tribal communities and tribal identity.
Tribal governments have worked hard to strengthen our partnerships with the federal government through self-determined economic development and the co-creation of new institutions, including the National Indian Gaming Commission, housed within the Department of Interior.
The relationship between tribal governments and the federal government goes beyond the DOI, however, to include Congress and the White House, which has a long-running formal policy of consultation with tribal governments. These complex and interdependent relationships, enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, are summarized as the “trust relationship” or even “trust responsibility,” so named because it captures the special fiduciary responsibility by the federal government towards tribes.
Recently, however, the relationship between some tribal governments and a particular division of the federal government, located in the Department of Justice, has been severely damaged by an internal campaign known within the DOJ as “Operation Choke Point.”
This behind-the-scenes attempt to shut down legal tribal businesses has disrupted our long-held tribal-federal partnership. It represents a total departure from more than a century of respect for, and engagement with, tribal governments as partners and co-regulators on issues ranging from law enforcement to economic development to education.
At issue in the short term are the legal, licensed and regulated e-commerce lending services that many tribes have established. What is at stake, however, is the long-term viability of the trust relationship itself.
In other economic ventures such as gaming, tribal governments have found strong opposition from state governments who see us as a competitor or, worse yet, as a willful violator of state regulations. It thus disturbs tribal governments that, in the case of legal online lending, the DOJ – our supposed federal partner – continues to attack and undermine our legal businesses.
As a member of the “federal family,” the DOJ has a mandate to exercise their trust responsibility to tribal governments. They have a responsibility to do this in a way that protects tribal businesses engaging in honest business practices, as ours do.
Like gaming enterprises operated by tribal governments, our online lending businesses are legally owned, operated and regulated under tribal regulatory authority. They are created pursuant to tribal law and our authority to create them is acknowledged in the Dodd-Frank Act. As with gaming, we have created partnerships with the federal government and federal regulatory bodies to ensure that consumers across the country have access to the services they need in a way that also drives economic growth on reservations.
Thus, we support and echo the concerns of House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, as reported in American Banker, that the Justice Department’s dragnet does appear to be an effort to stomp out all short-term lending, including legal tribal government-owned enterprises.
In light of the fact that the Dodd-Frank Act treats tribes as states in the context of financial services, tribal governments have created the Native American Financial Services Association to collectively establish a model for self-regulation, and we have sought meaningful consultation with federal regulatory bodies to strengthen and operationalize our relationship as co-regulators.
In an election year, however, the successful negotiation of a co-regulatory environment is not deemed as newsworthy as “choking off” legal tribal businesses. It is this abandonment of the federal-tribal trust relationship that has allowed “Operation Choke Point” to run amok and allowed legislators to blindly prop it up.
In the wake of this abandonment, rather than focusing on the true bad actors in the industry, “Operation Choke Point” is having the opposite effect. As the DOJ’s blanket actions continue to choke the illegal businesses, they also drown the legal ones, like ours, leaving consumers further underserved and tribal communities further isolated. At NAFSA, we will continue fighting to strengthen our tribal laws and regulations, work with our federal partners and educate state governments about our legal right to offer these businesses.
We can only hope that the DOJ, as a member of the “federal family,” will abide by their obligation to consult with us before taking unilateral actions, especially those that do not consider our special “trust” relationship and damage the fragile economic strides we are seeking on isolated reservation lands.
Tracie Stevens (Tulalip Tribes), who is leaving the chair of the National Indian Gaming Commission after completing a three-year term, talked to Indian Country Today Media Network about the commission’s work and what she anticipates doing after living and working in Washington, D.C.
You were appointed in June 2010, so you’ve been chair a little over three years. That doesn’t seem like a very long time for a federal government appointment. What made you decide to leave?
My term was expiring back in June, and I had to think about whether or not I wanted to continue to serve as chair for one more [three-year] term. But ultimately my decision to leave was a very difficult and really a deeply personal one. I’m a family person—I’m a wife and a mom—and in the end I had to really consider what was best for my family—and specifically, my daughter. She’s going into high school this year, and we decided together as a family that her last four years [in school] should be at home in the Northwest. My [family] has been incredibly supportive over my whole career, with the move to D.C. in particular, and they gave up a lot of things so that I could accept this wonderful opportunity. Now I want to shift my attention back to them.
Six years would be a long time away.
Yeah, especially as an Indian person when you know where your home is; it’s in your blood, and you know where you belong.
When you were appointed you had four goals: to review and improve consultation and relationship building, training and technical assistance, regulations and agency operations. How far along are you in accomplishing each of those goals?
Tracie Stevens, a member of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington (Courtesy National Indian Gaming Commission)
We’ve done exceptionally well, and I say ‘we’ because it’s not something that I did alone. It was certainly a combination of team work, not just with commissioners but with our staff. And a lot of groundwork was already laid by previous commissions.
We revamped our consultation process by adding informal consultations prior to initiating a formal rule-making process, which really speaks to Executive Order 13175. The EO talks about the need to discuss the need for change before you actually make the change. We also needed to look at how we were relating and communicating and cooperating and collaborating with all these other federal, state and tribal entities that are involved with Indian gaming and regulation and its oversight.
Indian law has a very long and complex history, especially under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), where there are so many divided authorities shared among federal, state and tribal entities, so really working on those relationships across government agencies was important. Technical assistance and training are mandated by IGRA. We’ve revised our curriculum to better fit the needs of the industry, and we actively communicated with tribes so that we can provide technical assistance on a daily basis—for which I can thank our field staff who don’t get the attention and credit they deserve. They really do all the hands-on work to keep tribes in compliance through technical assistance and training.
Our regulatory review was a massive undertaking, and we admitted that up front. A lot of people looked at our initiatives and said, “Holy moly, there’s no way you’re going to get this done!” But we took it more as a challenge than as a limitation. Overall, we reviewed more than 20 regulations, finalized 17 and held more than 50 consultations to achieve that. That went through our consultation process, where we had collaborative discussions with many tribes at the table as well as receiving comments from the public. In the end, this process helped us as a commission with fully informed decisions and rules that will further protect the industry, so that was a great success.
The last initiative was an agency operations review, and that was our effort to look at ourselves as a commission in the mirror and really examine our internal operations so that we could better fulfill our responsibilities and duties under IGRA. It has been the most active and longest initiative that we’ve faced. We examined our internal work-flow processes, our communications internally and externally, assignments procedures and priorities, our own compliance, because as a federal agency we do have to comply with federal statutes and regulations, making sure we provided tools to our staff so they could better perform their job, budgeting, standard operating procedures—all of these sort of management and organizational functions that all organizations, whether a federal agency or a corporation, face. So it was and still continues to be a major priority for us.
I’m really pleased with our achievements. It’s a success that’s shared with tribes and our own staff, and these initiatives won’t end with my departure because we’ve integrated them into our strategic plan that goes through the year 2018.
All of the responses that I’ve read about the one-touch bingo rule are positive—that’s a 180-degree turn from the chaos over Class II bingo when you became chair. Please talk about the process involved in reaching this point. Is it a model for resolving other contentious issues?
Really what prompted us to look at that type of machine and the way it’s played were inquiries from tribal regulators, manufacturers, testing labs asking us to provide some clarity. We examined the previous decision, we looked at previous judicial rulings and IGRA itself, and we concluded that we needed to reinterpret that one particular decision because it better upholds IGRA’s definition of bingo, as well as those previous judicial rulings. And really, it’s our consultation policy that’s a great model for resolving contentious issues. Within our policy there’s opportunity for tribes to bring to our attention matters that they’d like to have addressed.
What were the most and least gratifying aspects of being NIGC chair?
I think the most gratifying has been the relationships—the people I’ve come to know within the agency as well as within the federal family that I can now call my friends. But really the most enjoyable of those connections were with the tribes and their representatives through the consultation process. It’s always great—whether it’s a good exchange or a contentious exchange—to have that discussion. And that may just be a result of my own upbringing as a Tulalip: coming together and resolving issues. My advice to the next chair is: Communicate, communicate, communicate.
I’d say the least gratifying aspect was I’m not really somebody who likes to be out front. I’m more of a behind-the-scenes person, and I knew this job was going to be completely out front, and it’s not the most comfortable place for me. But it was an opportunity that really was an honor. And a friend and colleague pointed out that if you’re not out front, your daughter, your nieces and Native girls aren’t going to see women out front. And they need to know that women in leadership is normal, it’s expected, and it’s achievable.
What are your plans for the future and do they involve Indian gaming?
I made a conscious commitment to Indian country and to serving my own people in one way or another directly or indirectly, so I imagine that’s where I’m headed. How that will materialize I don’t yet know. I guess time will tell. It’ll probably be in the private sector and will probably include Indian gaming along with so many other issues that tribes face.
Revenues from gambling at Native American gaming centers across the nation hit a new record in 2012, bringing in nearly $28 billion dollars, a 2.7 percent increase over 2011.
The two fastest growing regions in the country were in Oklahoma. The Tulsa Region, which includes parts of Kansas and eastern Oklahoma, had the greatest revenue growth, increasing 6.6 percent.
The Oklahoma City Region, including Texas and the western parts of Oklahoma, were in second place with gambling revenue growing 5.8 percent in 2012 as compared to the year before.
The annual report from the National Indian Gaming Commission shows those two areas outpaced all others in the country in 2012. The Tulsa area showed gross gaming revenue of $1.9 billion. The Oklahoma City Region came in at $1.8 billion.
“In 2012, the Indian gaming industry saw its largest gross gaming revenues ever,” Tracie Stevens, chairwoman of the commission, said. “For those who judge casino spending as an indicator of increased discretionary spending and economic recovery, 2012 revenues certainly display economic encouragement.”