Tribal Leaders Wary of Online Gaming Legislation

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Tribal Leaders Wary of Online Gaming LegislationDuring a national tribal conference American Indian leaders said that tribes operating bingo halls and casinos should play a central role in legislation that would legalize online gambling. Currently there is a bill in congress that would legalize poker at the federal level but all other forms of gambling, including online bingo, would remain illegal. Several states have announced plans to offer legal online gambling to residents. Although previous federal legislation has languished in congress the bill could by pushed through during the upcoming lame duck session of congress.

In California online gaming legislation has stalled during the past few years and has caused a split among tribes with casino operations. Political observers say that online gaming legislation will resurface in 2013. Mark Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, told the conference "The ground is shifting under the gaming world's feet. We think it's absolutely critical we get it right the first time. Tribes need to be prepared to address the impacts of Internet gaming." Although the federal government bans online gaming states are free to legalize intrastate games.

The Pechanga band is just one of several southern California tribes operating successful casinos that generate millions and employ thousands. Online gambling has caused a split among the area's tribes. Morongo Band of Mission Indians and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians are part of a consortium that supports internet gaming. Proponents of online gaming say that it is essential that tribes diversify beyond land based casinos. The Pechanga tribe and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians disagree and are opposed to the licensing of any online gaming operations. Critics say that that some laws could favor one group of tribes over others and would hurt the casino business.

Tribal gaming associations have been vocal critics of the federal bill that would legalize online poker. Tribal leaders said that tribes need to play a significant part in any regulatory scheme proposed by lawmakers. Current legislation backed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid fails to include tribes according to Jason Giles, executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association. Giles told reporters "Yes, internet gaming is coming. But we also want it to be fair." In an interview with Indian Country Today Senator Reid said he supports tribes having a role in the decision making process.

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