SPOKANE, Wash., Sept. 23 /PRNewswire/ -- A 2.2 million square foot off-reservation casino complex proposed by the Spokane Tribe of Indians could become the litmus test for changes being contemplated by the federal government to existing regulations that guide where and how Indian tribes can develop casinos beyond the boundaries of their reservations. Today's meeting in Spokane between tribal leaders from across the region and officials from the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) may lead to significant changes in how the government enforces the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA) and what role state, local, and tribal governments will have in that process.
Today's meeting in Spokane is the first of six scheduled consultation meetings between tribal officials and the DOI between now and the end of November, 2010, to discuss those regulations that limit the ability for Indian tribes to develop off-reservation casinos. Among the issues being discussed is how the DOI should evaluate the potential impacts of a proposed off-reservation casino on the surrounding community, and to what extent those impacts should limit off-reservation casino developments.
Off-reservation gaming is generally prohibited under federal law. In order to pursue its proposed casino, the Spokane Tribe will need to be granted a rare exception by the federal government. Since 1988, very few Indian tribes have been able to meet the strict criteria established by the federal government. And those Indian tribes that have, generally lacked the ability to develop any type of meaningful economic activity on their reservations and none had existing gaming operations.
"This proposal should be getting the attention of communities around Washington State and across the country," said Nick Pierre, Kalispel Tribal Business Council member. "If a purely market driven desire becomes an approved exception to federal law regulating where a casino can be built, it will become a dangerous model for our communities and our tribes."
The consequences of setting a precedent that would expand off-reservation gaming could be far-reaching in Washington State. An agreement signed by the governor and the tribes provides that whatever the state allows one tribe to do, it has to allow the other 28 tribes to do.
"We support the right of all Tribes to develop gaming operations," Pierre continued. "We do not object in any way to the Spokane Tribe pursuing their legitimate rights under IGRA, but we do have concerns about ensuring that a consistent standard is applied across the board. We'd like to see a fair and transparent process that is applied equally across tribes and communities."
While IGRA generally prohibits casinos from being built on land purchased by Indian tribes after 1988, it does provide a few narrow exceptions for off-reservation gaming operations. Less than a handful of Indian casinos in the nation have been approved through such exceptions, including the Kalispel Tribe's Northern Quest Resort & Casino in Airway Heights. The Kalispel Tribe, which has a small reservation located on a flood plain with no potable water, clearly met the exceptional criteria contemplated by IGRA and strict limitations imposed by then Governor Gary Locke.
The Spokane Tribe has over 150,000 acres of land and two existing casinos. In their application to become an exception to IGRA, the Tribe will have to prove that the gaming operation would be in the best interest of the tribe and not detrimental to surrounding communities. During this process, the Secretary of the Interior is obligated to solicit input from communities within a 25-mile radius of the proposed casino, but communities outside of that perimeter may still provide comment and feedback.
The Spokane Tribe still has to pass significant hurdles in the federal process. Before the Spokane Tribe's proposal can move forward, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must be prepared, from which the community will have the opportunity to comment on whether the impacts have been adequately addressed and whether other development opportunities have been adequately considered. Information gathered from this EIS process will impact the Secretary's consideration of the Spokane Tribe's request for approval under the two-part determination exception.
Community members who want more information about the consultation meetings should contact the Bureau of Indian Affairs regional office in Portland at (503) 231-6702. For information about IGRA, go to http://www.nigc.gov
About The Kalispel Tribe of Indians
The Kalispel Tribe of Indians has over 400 members. The Tribe's headquarters is located in Usk, WA on the Pend Oreille River. The Tribe operates several health and social service programs through the Camas Path and Camas Center along with a number of business enterprises, like Northern Quest Resort & Casino and a cutting-edge Chevron station located just south of the resort. The Tribe contributes to the economic self-sufficiency of the Tribe, its members and surrounding communities. With a total of over 2,000 jobs across its government and business enterprises, the Kalispel Tribe is one of the top five private employers in the region, and has donated over $5 Million to regional non-profits. More information is available at www.kalispeltribe.com.
SOURCE The Kalispel Tribe of Indians