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Tony Batt

Off-Reservation Gambling Stirs Up Dispute

16 March 2006

WASHINGTON, DC -- In an unusually sharp rebuke, a House committee chairman on Wednesday accused an Interior Department official of making misleading statements about the increase of Indian casinos in communities that are not on reservations.

Rep. Richard Pombo, R- Calif., cut off George Skibine, an acting deputy assistant interior secretary, when Skibine said the department has approved only three applications for off-reservation gambling under a procedure called the two-part determination.

"We have established that nearly 10 percent of the (Indian) casinos operating today are operating on land that was not in trust (or on tribal land) as of 1988," said Pombo, the chairman of the House Resources Committee.

"To continue to go back to your figure of three is an inaccurate and misleading statement," Pombo told Skibine.

Pombo grilled Skibine about testimony he gave last month to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in which he said off-reservation gambling "historically ... really hasn't been a problem."

Skibine explained he was referring to the two-part determination, which requires approval by the interior secretary and the governor of a state where a tribe plans to build a casino that is not connected to their reservation.

Skibine acknowledged there are other exceptions in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 that allow tribes to seek off-reservation land for gambling.

Of the 405 Indian casinos operating in the United States, 38 of them are on land that was not owned by tribes when the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was enacted in October 1988, Pombo said.

Pombo introduced legislation last week that would crack down on off-reservation gambling. Among other things, Pombo's bill would:

- Repeal the two-part determination.

- Prohibit tribes from crossing state lines to set up gambling facilities in other states.

Sen. John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, has introduced similar legislation in the Senate, and McCain's bill is expected to be voted on by the committee later this month.

Although Skibine acknowledged pending applications for off-reservation casinos could become a problem, Pombo chided him for underestimating the scope of the problem.

"Your number of 23 (pending applications) would not include the plans by the Eastern Shawnee to open up to eight casinos in the state of Ohio; the five potential casinos in the Catskills in New York; the three proposals for casinos in Illinois; the three casino proposals in Nebraska; the casino proposal for Fort Smith, Arkansas; the casino proposal for Fort Payne, Alabama or the casino proposal for up to 40,000 slot machines across the river from the city of Philadelphia, does it?" Pombo asked Skibine.

"That's correct," Skibine said.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., noted there are 103 recognized tribes in California. Costa said many of them are landless, and likely to seek land for casinos

"It's 'Let's make a deal' time," Costa said.