September 14, 2006
Democrats kill bill to limit tribal casinos
By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON A majority of House Democrats on Wednesday defeated a
bill that would have barred Indian tribes from opening casinos
outside their home states — including the Eastern Shawnee who are
seeking to establish a casino in Canal Fulton.
The failure of the bill hurts the chances that any legislation
will pass this year to limit what critics call reservation
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., was
considered the more likely of two related bills to pass before the
similar Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has
been blocked, at least temporarily, by several senators —
including Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio — who have clamped holds
Backers of the McCain bill were hoping the Pombo measure would
pass to give their legislation some momentum.
One of the provisions of the Pombo bill — prohibiting tribes from
opening casinos outside their home states — ostensibly would
prevent the Oklahoma-based Shawnee from starting a casino in Canal
Fulton or elsewhere in Ohio.
Terry Casey, a spokesman for the Shawnee, said the tribe was
“obviously happy that it (the bill) met its fate today.”
But, he added, “our view is until Congress is done and out of
session, you never know when something might come back.”
Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, was the only area
lawmaker who voted in favor of the bill to limit Indian casinos.
Rep. Bob Ney, R-Heath, did not vote on the measure, and his office
did not return calls seeking to find out why.
The House voted 247-171 in favor of the legislation, but the bill
failed because it needed a two-thirds majority — 290 votes — under
a special procedure used to bar any amendments to the bill.
The legislation won support from 208 Republicans and 39 Democrats,
while 154 Democrats and 16 Republicans voted against it.
The proposal grew out of increasing frustration among state and
local officials, who complain that tribes are abusing their
gambling rights on their reservations by filing lawsuits to open
casinos in lucrative locations in other states.
Regula has not taken a position on the proposed Shawnee casino in
his congressional district, which he considers a “local-control
matter.” But he said he supported the bill because he believes
tribes and casinos are taking advantage of existing law.
“What happens is that I think non-Indians use the tribes in many
instances as a front to put in gaming in communities under the
guise that this is an Indian casino — and this happens in areas
where it’s not on Indian land,” he said.
Ney in the past has opposed legislation such as Pombo’s that would
amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Reps. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, and Tim Ryan, D-Niles, also voted
against the bill. Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Lisbon, was absent from
Voinovich, a foe of casino gaming in Ohio, put a hold on the
McCain version of the legislation to try to persuade his colleague
to add a provision that would permit governors to veto casinos in
their states, Voinovich spokesman Chris Paulitz said.
McCain is negotiating with several senators who are blocking the
After the defeat of the Pombo bill, Pombo spokeswoman Melissa
Mazzella DeLaney said it’s too early to speculate on the chances
of passing a bill this year. But she noted that House Republican
leaders have other priorities before Congress adjourns to campaign
“We gave this a shot, and it didn’t pass,” she said.
Indian tribes and tribal gaming associations overwhelmingly
opposed the legislation, which was backed by House GOP leaders.
During the past 16 years, Indian gaming contributions to lawmakers
have favored Democrats over Republicans by more than 2-1,
according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Pombo’s bill, the more narrowly drawn and restrictive of the two
proposals, would prohibit tribes that have land in trust from
acquiring more land not contiguous to their reservations for
The legislation also would require tribes that open casinos first
to reach an agreement with the host community under which Indians
would pay for transportation improvements and increased public
safety costs generated by the casino.
Opponents such as Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., argued the bill
“subverts” Indians’ tribal sovereignty by requiring tribes to
reach agreements with counties.
“Never before has a federal law equated sovereign tribes with
counties,” Kildee said.
Tribes, like states, have the status of sovereign entities. They
must negotiate gaming compacts with states but do not need
counties’ permission under current law.
Other Democrats complained the bill either would allow casinos
that they oppose to go forward in their districts or would
interfere with the opening of casinos they favor.
Opponents also criticized the inability to amend the bill on the
Pombo warned that failure to pass legislation curbing reservation
shopping would mark the real threat to Indian sovereignty.
“If Congress does not give communities power proactively, and a
fraction of the Indian casino proposals in the pipeline are
approved without their input, the resulting outrage directed at
Washington will force Congress to react,” he said in a written
statement after the vote.
Pombo said Indian casinos have grown from a $200 million industry
in the 1980s to $23 billion today.
One authority on Indian gaming called the defeat of the Pombo bill
a “clear but perhaps short-lived victory for the advocates of
Indian gaming-related interests and advocates of tribal
Steven Light, co-director of the Institute for the Study of Tribal
Gaming Law and Policy at the University of North Dakota, said he
expects Congress eventually to pass restrictions on
He said there may be an attempt to rework the Pombo bill and pass
it when Congress comes back for a session after the November
Observers said they weren’t sure why a majority of Democrats
banded together against the bill, even though it was co-sponsored
by Rep. Nick Rahall II, D-W.Va., the ranking Democrat on the
Several said election-year politics played a role.
“Democrats have tended to be greater advocates for tribal
sovereignty and tribal interests” than Republicans, Light said.