The Morongo Band of California Mission Indians were disappointed this week when the National Indian Gaming Association laid aside its proposal to block Barney Frank's federal legislative attempt to legalise and tax online gambling in the United States.
The Morongo, in concert with Californian commercial poker rooms, had hoped to marshall tribal support to halt the Frank bill, clearing the way for it to set up an exclusive legalised Internet poker system within California.
Reporting on the proceedings of the National Indian Gaming Association conference this week, the publication Indian Country Today said that the divisive debate on Internet gambling closed with an anti-climatic vote to delay action on the Morongo resolution opposing the Frank bill.
"Tribal members of the National Indian Gaming Association voted 27-6 with one abstention to table what was intended as a compromise resolution in response to proposed bills by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and others to legalize and tax online poker," Indian Country Today reported.
"While many tribal leaders in California view online wagering as potential competition to 440 tribal casinos in 28 states, others in the southern and eastern United States regard the Internet as an opportunity to grow their gambling and hospitality markets. Still others in the Midwest and Southwest contend it is premature to take a position on the complex issue of Internet wagering, particularly since most believe Frank's bill and similar legislation in the Senate stand little chance of passage.
"They apparently were the tribes who carried the vote to table the motion."
Morongo chairman Robert Martin said after the vote: "I'm disappointed. Very, very much so. I thought we had the votes to get it done."
"I want to know more. I don't want to make a decision prematurely," said Chief Miko Beasley Denson of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, suggesting a study be done to explore the impact online gambling would have on the tribal casino industry.
Indian Country Today points out that there is general agreement among the tribal gambling groups that legislation to legalise online gambling would have to recognise the sovereign status of tribal governments and not tax tribes or infringe on the right of tribes to operate casinos under terms established by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.
Congressman Frank has responded to tribal concerns. In a March 29 letter to NIGA chairman Ernie Stevens, the Democrat chair of the House Financial Services Committee said: "I intend that this legislation should have no impact on (tribal) compacts with states; that is, the bill should not in any way impair existing rights regarding compacts either currently in force or to be signed in the future."
The Indian Country Today article comments that the tribes have stepped back from a general belief that legalisation of online gambling would cannibalise the nearly $27 billion tribal gambling market. Most online gamblers play poker or bet on sports. Tribes don't offer sports betting and poker is a player-banked game that generates very little casino revenue.
Many tribes also believe Internet wagering could benefit the approximately 300 tribes and Alaska Native villages that do not operate casinos or bingo halls.
"I don't believe gaming tribes are opposed to Internet gaming as much as the legislation," said Mohegan chairwoman Lynn Malerba, suggesting that the wise course of action would be to work with Frank's office in crafting an Internet wagering bill.
"We're looking to protect IGRA. We're looking to protect tribal-state compacts. Why not help craft the language?" she told Indian Country Today.