Regulatory Updates

Tribal Gaming Legislation and Regulation: Man the Radar!

Knute Knudson
Knute Knudson

Knute Knudson, VP of Native American Development for IGT

If you're involved in Indian gaming, the odds are you're familiar with key legislation that could adversely affect Indian gaming. You're probably aware of Senator McCain's bill (S 2078) to amend IGRA. You've probably been following the progress of Representative Pombo's bill (HR 4893) to limit gaming on after acquired lands. These legislators chair the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and the House Resources Committee respectively - committees that have primarily responsibility for Indian affairs and issues. You may also be aware of Senator Feinstein's bill (S 113) to take away the ability of the Lytton Rancheria of California to conduct gaming on their land.

These bills have gotten a lot of attention in the press. They would have major consequences for Indian gaming. But, they are only the tip of the iceberg. An activity as successful and wide-ranging as Indian gaming can attract a lot of legislative activity, for good and for ill.

Currently there are a number of bills in Congress, other than those noted above, that would have significant impacts on Indian gaming.

• Several pending bills, in addition to Representative Pombo's bill above, would limit or strip tribes of the ability to conduct gaming on newly acquired lands. Those include Senator Vitter's bill, S 1260, Representative Rogers' bills, HR 2353, and HR 4696, and Representative Dent's bill, HR 3431.

• One measure, HR 4677, sponsored by Representative Rogers, would put in place a two year moratorium on new compacts. The bill would mandate that: “The Secretary of the Interior shall not approve any new Tribal-State compacts for gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (25 U.S.C. 2701 et seq.) until after the date that is 2 years after the date of the enactment of this Act.”

• Senator Voinovich is sponsoring S 1518 which would limit tribes to conducting compacted gaming only in states where such gaming was done for commercial purposes rather than for charitable or non-profit purposes. Further, it would subject gaming tribes to follow state rules rather than rules determined pursuant to negotiation.

• Representative Costa's bill, HR 5125, would amend IGRA to provide that the Secretary of the Interior shall not approve a Tribal-State gaming compact under IGRA unless the state involved has a state law providing for a gaming master plan that has been approved by the Secretary.

• Several bills noted above would also mandate that state legislatures, in addition to state's governors, must have a voice in approving compacts or approving off-reservation gaming, thereby making it more difficult to achieve such approval.

• Legislation is pending to put limits on Internet gaming that would have an impact on tribal gaming opportunities.

• In addition to pending legislation, federal regulations are in development that would have a significant impact on Indian gaming regarding Class II gaming definitions, facility licensing, and gaming on after acquired lands.

Will all of these bills become law? No. Only about 6% of all bills introduced in the last session of Congress became law. Could any of these become law? You bet. About 6% of all bills introduced in the last session of Congress became law - any of these could be in that 6%. And the ideas in these bills could also become law as amendments to other bills. Already this session, there have been attempts to change Indian gaming law through amendments to bills on other subjects.

We're nearing the end of the two year 109th Session of Congress. It may not seem so as the calendar year is just half over, but Congress does not have many working days left this year, and members will be anxious to spend as much time as possible campaigning in their home districts this fall. That's important to remember because a lot can happen quickly in the waning days of a Congressional session.

What can you do about all of this legislative activity? Stay informed and get involved. Follow the status of legislation online. The Library of Congress maintains an excellent legislative website at Federal regulations come on-line as they are proposed at the Federal Register's site at And, a lot of information can be found at the NIGC website at

Get involved as a member or associate member in your regional and national gaming association. The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) and most regional gaming associations schedule regular opportunities for their members and associates to meet directly with members of Congress and with Congressional staffers. They monitor legislation and will coordinate written communications to Congressional offices as that is warranted.

When your association asks for a letter to Congress on a particular topic and the letter is consistent with your organization's views, be sure and send that letter. You can bet those who oppose you on legislative issues are making their voices heard. It's important for you to do the same.

The truth about Indian gaming - that it is well regulated, offers a highly competitive entertainment product to its customers, and supports tribal members in almost countless ways, is not self-evident and legislators need to be educated in order to make informed votes.

By staying informed of all current legislative and regulatory activity related to Indian gaming, by manning the radar so to speak, you will be able to identify the many potential threats to Indian gaming. Once you know the specific threats to Indian gaming, you'll be in a much better position to help fight those threats.

Knute Knudson is Vice President of Native American Development for IGT. He can be reached by calling (775) 448-1528 or email