Senator Pushes for Off-Reservation Casino Restrictions - Monday 6th of February 2006

WASHINGTON Frustrated by a lack of restrictions on tribes seeking to open off-reservation casinos, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Wednesday pressed the Department of Interior to complete regulations to curtail the practice.

"It is unacceptable 17 years (after passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) not to have regulations to implement a law which now applies to a 19 to 20 billion dollar-a-year business," McCain said.

McCain, chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., expressed dismay that the Interior Department has not prepared rules to control tribes that seek to establish casinos off their traditional property.

George Skibine, acting deputy assistant secretary for Indian affairs, attributed the delay partly to the transition from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration. President Clinton left the White House in January 2001.

At a July hearing, Skibine told the Senate committee that the Interior Department has approved only three applications by tribes for off-reservation gambling since the federal law was enacted in 1988.

"Hopefully, in the next couple of weeks, we will send a working document (to regulate off-reservation gambling) to tribes for their consultation, and we will make it available to your committee," Skibine told McCain.

The department hopes to have off-reservation gambling regulations in place by the end of the year, Skibine said Wednesday.

McCain may be unwilling to wait that long. He said he plans to seek committee approval "in a month or so" of legislation he introduced in November that would limit lands eligible for gaming.

McCain's bill also would strengthen the authority of the National Indian Gaming Commission, the federal body that oversees tribal gambling operations.

"I am very aware there's a great deal of controversy out there in Indian country about addressing this issue," McCain said.

"It needs to be addressed. Every law that's passed, over time, needs to be updated," he said.

This was the sixth hearing on the law since last year, when McCain became the committee chairman for a second time.

McCain seemed irritated by a Nov. 25 decision by the federal commission to allow the Cowlitz Indian Tribe of Washington to open a casino away from its lands and near Portland, Ore.

"We are told that communities, local governments and other tribes affected by the Cowlitz proposal seem to have been caught completely off-guard by your decision," McCain told Penny Coleman, acting general counsel for the National Indian Gaming Commission.

Coleman described the Cowlitz case as "an anomaly," and said the commission was not thrilled about the tribe's plan to open a casino.

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