Some people in Congress believe American Indians struck it rich with the establishment of tribal gaming and the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in the late 1980s.
But serious problems with education, health care, unemployment and housing remain. Tribes are also dealing with the effect of Internet gaming on their business, off-reservation casinos and political gridlock in Washington, D.C.
“They’ve been very busy in Washington this year,” John Gusik, founding partner of the Franklin Partnership, a Washington, D.C., law and government relations services firm, said Thursday at the Global Gaming Expo. He was moderating a panel discussion on tribal gaming on the final day of the expo at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas.
“There have been 4,500 bills in Congress this year; only 31 have been enacted,” Gusik said. “It’s a do-nothing Congress. Seventy-two bills dealing with tribal issues and none have been enacted. Internet gaming continues to languish in Congress.”
The fate of those bills has also been hurt by the Oct. 1 deadline to enact a budget or face a possible federal government shutdown.
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Pete Kirkham, president of Red Maple Consulting, a Springfield, Va., government affairs and political strategy firm, said Congress hasn’t passed any of the 13 appropriation bills needed to fund the government.
“If you represent tribes, they think you must work on Indian gaming all the time,” Kirkham said. “Gaming takes up some time but it’s also about health care, education and housing.”
Kirkham acknowledged that the vast majority of a tribe’s revenue is earned through gaming, but said those dollars go to providing services to the community.
The National Indian Gaming Commission reported $27.9 billion in gaming revenues in 2012, up 2.6 percent from $27.2 billion in 2011.
“Everything is now seen through the prism of gaming,” said Jana McKeag, president of Lowry Strategies, an Alexandria, Va., government and public affairs consulting firm. “Congress believes that tribes have all this gaming money … why do they need (federal dollars)?”