Casino Developers Could Ultimately Dictate Gambling Policy

  • The U.S. House of Representatives passed House Resolution 1619, also known as the Catawba Indian Nation Lands Act, on November 1.
  • Opponents to the bill say that it establishes a dangerous precedent and gives casino developers undue power in dictating gambling policy.

WASHINGTON – The Catawba Indian Nation Lands Act – or H.R. 1619 was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on November 1.

The bill, which was recently added for consideration as a potential amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, was sponsored by Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.).

On the U.S. Congress’ website, H.R. 1619 is described in the following manner:

“This bill ratifies and confirms the actions of the Department of the Interior to take into trust approximately 17 acres of land in Cleveland County, North Carolina, for the benefit of the Catawba Indian Nation. The land is made part of the Catawba Reservation. The bill allows gaming on the land taken into trust for the tribe.”

The bill has been subject to a considerable amount of controversy, as its passage would mark the first time Congress has authorized an off-reservation casino, leading to the “Anywhere, Anyplace Casino Act” moniker the bill has been given by opponents.

Much of the controversy has stemmed from the departure from prior precedent: since the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (commonly referred to as IGRA) about 30 years ago, states, city governments, and the Department of Interior have been the regulatory bodies that made decisions on casino locations and authorizations.

H.R. 1619 would move that power to Congress, opponents say.

Another concern of opponents to the bill is that it could put casino developers, as opposed to elected officials, at the driver’s seat for dictating casino and gaming policies nationwide.

Les Bernal, author of a scathing op-ed published by The Hill and National Director of Stop Predatory Gaming, a political action committee against both land-based and online gambling in the U.S., described his concern in his column:

“It’s like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank,” Bernal wrote. “All casino moguls would need to do to impose their will on localities throughout the nation is partner with an allied member of Congress to circumvent the courts and local governments. That would not take much effort because commercialized gambling companies are already some of the most well-connected to the legislative branch in the country, consistently feeding over $50 million in annual federal campaign donations to Congress.”

Bernal is not the only high-profile, vocal opponent to the bill.

On November 2, the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles penned a letter in collaboration with some 20 religious, family-values, and state’s rights advocates to Senate Indian Affairs Chairman Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Vice Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) condemning the bill.

The coalition wrote that “the rule of law and the careful checks and balances that come with it should never be traded in for the conveniences of political expediency” and asked that they “stand for federalism, fairness, and the independent judiciary and put the welfare of localities and the families living within them first by dismissing this bill.”