Massillon Independent

July 27, 2006

Bill to block casinos advances

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON – A House committee on Wednesday approved an Indian gaming bill that would block efforts by the Eastern Shawnee Indian tribe to open casinos in Stark County or elsewhere in Ohio.

The committee’s approval of the legislation is the latest development in an effort by lawmakers that some observers believe will result in enactment of tougher legislation regulating Indian gaming before the end of the year.

The Oklahoma-based Shawnee recently reached an agreement with a private property owner in Lawrence Township, near Canal Fulton, to purchase 49 acres for use as a casino.

Earlier this year, the tribe was courting Massillon as the site for the casino, but it has since switched its focus to Canal Fulton.

The Shawnees sued the state of Ohio and several units of local government in federal court last year to reclaim 93,000 acres of ancestral land in what many saw as a bid to open casinos in the state.

But if the bill approved by the House Resources Committee becomes law, it would effectively prohibit the Shawnees from opening casinos in Ohio because the tribe is based in Oklahoma, said a congressional staff member who spoke on condition he not be identified.

The bill, sponsored by House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo, R-Calif., bars tribes from conducting gaming “on Indian lands outside of the state in which the Indian tribe is primarily residing and exercising tribal government authority.”

The legislation also would prohibit tribes from acquiring casinos through what is known as a land claim, an option the Shawnees have pursued in their lawsuit. In addition, the bill would do away with what is called a “two-part determination,” an avenue for opening a casino when approval is received from the U.S. Department of the Interior and governor of the state in which the casino would be located.

A similar bill, sponsored by Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., won approval in that committee in March and is awaiting action on the Senate floor.

Terry Casey, a spokesman for the Eastern Shawnee, said he had not seen a final version of the bill approved by the House committee but added it was “premature to speculate on something that has only come out of one committee in the House.” Any legislation affecting Indian gaming would have to win approval in both the House and Senate and then be signed by President Bush.

Steven Light, co-director of the Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming at the University of North Dakota, said he expects Congress will pass legislation similar to the McCain or Pombo bills before the end of the year.

“I don’t have any doubt that there will be some form of an amendment to (the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) in this legislative session,” he said. Pombo’s bill passed with strong support, with 27 members of the committee voting in favor and seven opposed.

McCain’s bill won even stronger backing when it was approved by the Senate committee.

Since then, the legislation has run into opposition from a handful of senators who either contend that it goes too far in limiting Indian gaming or does not go far enough in curbing what has grown into a $23 billion a year industry. Proponents of the bill are still hopeful that it will win passage in the Senate this year.

“I think there’s a lot of momentum to do something, that’s the encouraging side of it,” a congressional staff member said.

Independent reporter Matthew Rink contributed to this story.