A Senate committee approved a bill Wednesday aimed at curbing a growing trend of Indian tribes building casinos away from their reservations.
The bill, sponsored by John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, would change existing law that allows tribes to build casinos off their reservations if they are approved by the interior secretary and the state’s governor.
The legislation was prompted by an increasing number of tribes who have sought more lucrative locations for their casinos — a trend some have dubbed “reservation-shopping.”
“Every tribe would like to have a casino in downtown New York City,” said North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, the top Democrat on the committee. “But that’s not how it should be.”
The vast majority of the nation’s 400-plus tribal casinos, which brought in $18.5 billion in 2004, were built on existing reservation land. As Indian casinos have boomed, tribes have looked beyond their borders for better locations.
The legislation would eliminate off-reservation gambling for tribes with their own reservation land, but it does allow some tribes who have begun the application process to continue their efforts. Some Republicans — such as Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo. — have criticized that provision, saying it undermines the spirit of the bill.
Landless or newly recognized tribes would still be able to build casinos on land to which they have historical, geographical and other ties. The bill tightens restrictions for these proposals, however, requiring increased public input on the development of those casinos.
House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif., has also proposed legislation to curb off-reservation casinos.
Some tribes have criticized the proposals, saying they will prevent them from creating more jobs for members. Bill Johnson, a member of North Dakota’s Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, says his tribe’s proposed casino near Grand Forks, N.D., would be a major economic boost.
“No one’s going to get rich in North Dakota,” he said. “But every dollar that comes in will help a tribe like ours that has almost 70 percent unemployment.”