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Tony Batt
 

Senator Seeking Change to Indian Gaming Act

29 June 2005

WASHINGTON -- Despite protests from tribal leaders in his own state, Sen. John McCain on Tuesday said he plans to amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

McCain, an Arizona Republican who is chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, noted during the panel's hearing Tuesday that the tribal casino industry has mushroomed from a $500 million per year industry in 1988 when the act was passed to $18.5 billion last year.

"If any of the witnesses today believe that we do not have that responsibility (to review and amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act), then we have a respectful disagreement," McCain said.

McCain is considering strengthening federal regulation of tribal casinos, restricting Indian gaming on off-reservation land and tightening a loophole that allows tribes to pay huge fees to advisers as long as they are described as consultants instead of managers.

Leaders of two Arizona tribes urged McCain not to force tribes to pay more for federal regulation of Indian gaming.

"Additional regulation at the federal level will only duplicate current tribal and state efforts in Arizona," said Vivian Juan-Saunders, chairwoman of the Tohono O'Odham Nation in Sells, Ariz.

Dallas Massey, chairman of the White Mountain Apache Tribe in Whiteriver, Ariz., was more blunt.

"Arizona tribes already fully fund an adequate state-tribal regulatory system and should not be forced to pay for increases in National Indian Gaming Commission fees," Massey said.

McCain acknowledged tribal sovereignty must be respected, but did not back down about amending the act.

"I think that some of my fellow citizens would also point out that about 99 percent of patrons of Indian gaming operations are non-Indian, so we have an obligation to protect the interests of those who ... are the source of the revenue," McCain said.

When Deron Marquez, chairman of San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in Patton, Calif., said his tribe spends $20 million a year for regulatory oversight, McCain asked how much the tribe receives in annual gambling revenues.

Marquez said his tribe does not disclose that figure. "That's not helpful," McCain snapped.