25th Anniversary: Native Americans Recognize 25 Years Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act

Oct 17, 2013, 15:24 ET from California Tribal Business Alliance

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Oct. 17, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- When the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) was signed into law on Oct. 17, 1988, many tribal leaders strongly opposed the federal policy as an infringement on the sovereignty of Indian Country to operate casino-style gaming facilities on tribal lands.

In retrospect, however, IGRA, while limiting, has proven to be one of the most progressive economic tools for many tribes, particularly in California, forever changing the face of gaming in this country and making IGRA's 25th anniversary one worth recognizing.

"It's the one federal Indian policyamidst a host of failed policies that the federal government has tried to implement over the yearsthat has truly helped promote and strengthen economic development and self-determination among tribal governments," said Robert Smith, Chairman of the California Tribal Business Alliance (CTBA). "While the policy has its limitations, IGRA allows America to live up to its promise to American Indians and fulfills the visions of Presidents Obama and Reagan, respectively, to 'honor treaties and recognize tribes' inherent sovereignty and right to self-government under U.S. law' and to restore tribal governments to their rightful place among the governments of this nation and to enable tribal governments, along with state and local governments to resume control over their affairs."

The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door for the Native American gaming industryleading to the passage of IGRAwhen it ruled in 1987 that states have no power to interfere with the right of tribes to conduct any form of Indian gaming on reservations unless all such gaming was prohibited in the state in California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians.

While Indian nations have always had the right as sovereign governments to exercise governmental authority over its lands and people, including gaming, IGRA served as a compromise to allow states some regulatory control.

"Before IGRA was enacted, many tribes were not treated equally in many policy arenas or even consulted on federal policies that would impact them," said Leslie Lohse, Vice-Chair of CTBA and Tribal Council Treasurer of the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians of California since 1998. "Although it has not benefited all tribes to the same degree, it has allowed tribes to escape poverty and despair and gain footing on such policy discussions."

As part of the compromise, IGRAwhich is intended to promote economic development, self-sufficiency and a strong tribal governmentestablished three classes of games with different regulatory rules for each.

Class I gaming includes traditional Indian gaming or social gaming for minimal prizes and is not subject to government oversight. Class II gaming includes "player banked" card games (such as Poker) and bingo and allows tribes to retain authority as long as the state in which the Tribe is located permits such gaming. IGRA also created the National Indian Gaming Commission, which regulates and oversees Class II gaming. The final category was Class III gaming, which is restricted, and includes high-stakes casino-style gambling, including slot machines, blackjack, craps and roulette, as well as electronic games. 

Under IGRA, states have regulatory control over Class III gaming through tribal-state compacts that lay out conditions, regulations and limitationswhich many tribal leaders perceive as a legal encroachment by federal and state governments that undermines cultural survival, political autonomy and economic development successes.

"IGRA has no doubt been helpful to tribal economies, but it has also placed limits and restrictions on the conditions that must be met before tribes can offer gaming," said Cita Welch, Treasurer of CTBA and Vice Chair of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians. "Nonetheless, much of the Indian gaming industry has thrived and become an integral part of tribal economies, with IGRA providing a framework to allow tribes to generate revenues and optimize their potential." 

When given the chance, IGRA can benefit all communities and allow Indian nations to create a robust tribal government gaming industry without depending on the federal government.

"Self-determination is critical, and in order for tribes to protect their inherent rights and prevent their economic development ventures from being trampled on, embracing IGRA is imperative to the preservation of Indian sovereignty and self-reliance for current and future generations," Smith said.

SOURCE California Tribal Business Alliance