The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs released a discussion draft of a bill on Internet gaming Thursday detailing what tribes would like to see in online poker legislation.
Committee chairman Sen. Dan Akaka announced The Tribal Online Gaming Act of 2012 during a hearing on the regulation of tribal gaming. A discussion draft is not a formal bill intended for vote. This is not likely a bill that will ever be voted on.
The purpose of the draft is to get input from various Indian tribes across the country to make sure the bill is a fair representation of their interests, and then the final version will stand as a testament to what the tribes want included in any federal legislation regulating Internet poker.
"We in Congress, and especially on this committee, have a responsibility to ensure that tribal views and priorities are part of any legislation that could impact tribal gaming," Akaka said. "That is why I have developed a draft online gaming bill, the Tribal Online Gaming Act of 2012. This bill is intended to further the dialogue with tribes, my colleagues here in the Senate and other stakeholders.
"In any expansion of gaming, we must make sure that the unique circumstances surrounding tribal sovereignty are maintained. And we must also enable tribes to participate fully should any legislation be considered so tribes will be on equal footing with their counterparts in the commercial gaming industry."
Much of the draft bill is about the tribes wanting to be on equal footing with the Nevada casino industry. They want every tribe to be eligible to be licensed for online poker, either individually or as a consortium. They want current Indian gaming regulatory bodies to be allowed to issue licenses and regulate online poker.
They don't want online poker legislation to impact the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act or require tribal-state compacts to be renegotiated. As part of this, the tribes don't want their online gaming revenues to be taxed the way the commercial casino industry surely will. They want to be both equal and separate.
The following list includes witnesses at the hearing with links to their written testimony if available: Tracie Stevens, chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission; Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum, chairman of the Mohegan Tribe; Glen Gobin, secretary of the Tulalip Tribes; Jamie Hummingbird, chairman of the National Tribal Gaming Commissioners/Regulators; Elizabeth Homer, an attorney who handles American Indian interests; Jon Porter, a former Congressman from Nevada and current lobbyist for the Poker Players Alliance; and Eugene Johnson, Spectrum Gaming Group's senior vice president of marketing and online studies.
Bozsum compared this period to the beginnings of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1987. He said that, initially, some tribal leaders opposed the legislation as an attack on sovereignty. But it ended up creating Indian gaming as we know it today, the biggest economic success story in Native American history. Bozsum also said tribes that missed out on the gaming boom could get in on online gaming through compacts with more experienced tribes.
"I believe, in the wake of the game-changing DOJ opinion on Internet gaming, tribal leaders and federal legislators should work together to establish a single, coherent federal policy," Bozsum said. "I believe this to be a far superior approach than allowing a patchwork system with no guarantees that tribal sovereignty and our hard-won games would be protected."
Porter explained why he believed legislation should be limited to poker, differentiating poker as a game of skill, and expressed optimism that tribes and Nevada casinos could work together and learn from each other in this new branch of the industry. He also warned that tribes need to move quickly to catch up to Nevada in being prepared for online poker. The hearing and draft bill were steps in that direction.
"I would suggest tribal nations and regulatory bodies get engaged quickly in this debate from creating their own regulations and being a part of this," Porter said. "One thing Nevada has done in anticipating that this may happen soon, we have passed landmark legislation to prepare our industry for this global Internet. I know other states are moving and preparing. I would highly suggest that tribal interests get prepared, not wait. Get prepared or you will miss the opportunity."
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