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Tony Batt

Bill to Limit Tribal Gaming Fails

14 September 2006

WASHINGTON, DC -- Any hope of approving gambling restrictions this year in Congress may have died Wednesday when the House failed to pass a bill to require Indian casinos to be located on tribal lands.

The House voted 247-171 in favor of the bill, but a two-thirds majority was required because the legislation was called up under an expedited procedure.

The outcome was surprising because the House Resources Committee voted 27-9 on July 26 to pass the bill.

"How this bill could be considered controversial -- outside Indian gaming circles, of course -- is beyond me," Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., the sponsor of the bill and the chairman of the House Resources Committee.

Pombo, who is facing a tough race for re-election, accused Democrats of killing the bill.

During the 40-minute debate in the House, opponents charged the Pombo bill would infringe on tribal sovereignty.

"We've seen tribes abused historically in this country," Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., complained before the vote. "I think that's happening again today."

Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., who led the opposition, said the bill would amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 by requiring tribes to negotiate gambling compacts with counties.

Pombo said the 1988 act needs to be amended to address the explosive growth of Indian gambling into a $23 billion industry.

Though few of the nation's nearly 225 casino-operating tribes have succeeded in building in better locations away from their reservations, a growing number are trying. Tribes are attempting to locate in the Catskills in New York, and tribes from opposite ends of California are trying to build in the Mojave Desert on the route connecting Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Pombo's legislation would block many such projects in the future, although projects already proposed could go forward.

Even if the bill had passed the House, its prospects in the Senate would have been uncertain.

The bill would amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 to eliminate an exception that lets tribes build off-reservation with approval from the secretary of Interior and the host state's governor.

The measure still would have let tribes seek casino permits if they have been newly recognized by the federal government or if they have no reservation land of their own. But they would also have to reach agreements with local communities to ensure that a share of casino revenues go to local infrastructure, public safety and other costs.

The bill would have let tribes invite other tribes to build casinos on their reservation land and share profits.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is sponsoring similar legislation in the Senate, was asked last week if his bill is dead.

"Probably -- with all the holds on it. Unfortunately," McCain said.

Meanwhile, the outlook for legislation to prohibit Internet gambling also appears grim.

The House voted 317-93 in July to ban online wagering, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has said he wants to schedule a Senate vote.

But time is running short because GOP leaders in Congress hope to adjourn by Sept. 29 so lawmakers can campaign.

"I think we're making some progress," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., the Senate's leading advocate of an Internet gambling ban.

"It's in kind of a delicate stage right now, trying to put together the assurance that it can be adopted, and again, you've got 2 1/2 weeks," Kyl said.