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Excerpt from Article “Is Panel Biased Against Tribes?”

“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,” Shosky says.

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 and crime.

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 June.

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 wrath.

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