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House targets off-reservation tribal gambling

Indian tribes would be barred from building Las Vegas-style casinos off their reservations under legislation approved by a House committee on Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Indian tribes would be blocked from building Las Vegas-style casinos off their reservations under legislation approved by a House committee Wednesday.

The bill by Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif., takes aim at the trend of “off-reservation gambling” or, as some critics call it, “reservation shopping.”

Although the trend is limited, it’s become highly controversial: Some tribes have moved hundreds of miles and even across state lines to find better locations for their casinos.

“Instead of seeking to bring economic development to the Indian reservation, they have instead sought to bring the Indian reservation to wherever there is economic development,” Pombo said.

“This is wrong, and it threatens both the future of Native American economic development and the integrity of Indian tribal sovereignty.”

Pombo’s bill, which passed 27-9, would amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 to eliminate an exception that allows tribes to build off-reservation with the approval of the Interior secretary and the state’s governor.

Tribes that already had submitted applications by March 7, the day Pombo introduced the bill, would be allowed to proceed under a grandfather clause.

The bill still would allow tribes that have been newly recognized by the federal government, or that don’t have reservation land of their own, to seek permission to build casinos. But those tribes would be required to enter a “memorandum of understanding” with local communities to ensure the tribe pays for infrastructure, public safety and other costs.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee approved a bill in March to crack down on off-reservation casinos.

Indian gambling has had explosive growth since the legal framework was created in 1988, and the nation’s 408 Indian gambling facilities brought in $22.6 billion in revenue last year. The vast majority of tribal casinos were built on existing reservations, but some three dozen are in places that weren’t Indian land in 1988, and many more tribes are seeking to move off-reservation.