Excerpt from Article “Is Panel Biased Against
“IS PANEL BIASED AGAINST TRIBES?”-
Indian tribe lobbyist Thomas Rodgers says that members of the
gambling commission harbored a bias against his clients.
… Rodgers and others who have kept close
tabs on the panel, appointed in 1997 to study the social and
economic impacts of legalized gambling, argue that after almost
two years of gathering information and testimony on all forms
of gambling, the commissioners seem pointed to issue a report
that takes specific aim at Indian gaming.
Advocates who have seen the commission at work
say its members seem to believe that their report has to slam
some sector of the industry—and that the Indians are the
easiest target. They fear that the report could call for increased
regulation or taxation of Indian gaming.
“The Indians are going to be a scapegoat,”
says one lobbyist for a Native American tribe. “They’re
going to go easy on Las Vegas, they’re going to go easy
on the state lotteries… it’s going to be very one-sided
from everything we hear.”
Predicts another tribe representative, Philip
Baker-Shenk of Doresy & Whitney: “The bulk of the
recommendations will, by political default, fall on tribal gaming.
The tribes are, and always have been, an easy, cheap and political
target in this town.”
The tribes’ lobbyists say that throughout
the process, they’ve seen indications that they aren’t
going to get a fair shake—from the makeup of the commission
to votes the body has already taken.
The commission’s deputy director, John Shosky,
dismisses any accusation of anti-Indian bias. He says commissioners
have gone out of their way to be fair and have gone out of their
way to give Native Americans a chance to set the agenda and
to have a voice in the process.
“We’ve had hundreds of people from
tribes come and testify,” Shosky says.
Shosky notes that since Indian gaming is a big
part of the gambling landscape, the commissioners are naturally
going to spend a significant amount of time on it “[But]
I don’t think we’ve singled out anyone unfairly,”
Congress created the commission in 1996 in response
to the explosive growth of the gambling industry in the last
two decades. In 1976, when the federal government last studied
the issue, casino gambling was legal in only two states and
Americans spent less than $25 billion on it.
Now some form of gambling is legal in all but
two sates, and Americans pour more the $500 billion into slot
machines, blackjack, bingo, and other games of chance, according
to statistics cited by Kay James, the commission’s chairwoman
and dean of the school of government at Pat Robertson’s
Regent University in Virginia.
The commission’s nine members, appointed
by congressional leaders and President Bill Clinton in 1997,
were asked to study the possible effects of this boom, such
as gambling addiction and the relationship between gambling
Since then, the commissioners have crisscrossed
the country, visiting the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, researching
state riverboat casinos and Internet wagering in Chicago.
Of course, nobody in the gambling advocacy business
is looking forward to the report, which will be released in
Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., president and chief executive
officer of the American Gaming Association, which represents
the large Vegas-style casinos such as Circus Circus Enterprises
Inc. and the MGM Grand Inc., says the commission’s yet-unknown
recommendations are one of his group’s top legislative
concerns for this year.
“Fallout from the release of the National
Gambling Impact Study Commission’s final report is likely
to be the great challenge we face during this, the 106th Congress,”
Fahrenkopf told AGA members at a retreat in January.
William Bergmann, a lobbyist for the North American
Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, says his members
are also worried about taking a hit. “The sense is that
we’re one of the under-represented people at the table,
so we’ll get recommendations” in the report that
affects state lotteries, he says.
As anti-gambling activist Bernie Horn, head of
the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, says, “We’ll
have enough condemnation to go around.”
But many advocates—even those who represent
nontribal gambling interests—agree that Native American
operations are likely to feel the brunt of the commission’s