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By Mrs. FEINSTEIN:
S. 477. A bill to amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to modify a provision relating to gaming on land acquired after October 17, 1988; to the Committee on Indian Affairs.
Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I rise today to reintroduce the Tribal Gaming Eligibility Act.
This bill sets forth what I believe is a very reasonable, moderate standard for where tribes are allowed to open gaming establishments.
The standard is simple: a tribe must demonstrate that it has a modern and an aboriginal connection to the land before it can open a gaming establishment on it.
The new standard is needed because too many tribes in California and across the nation are “reservation shopping”. They look for a profitable casino location, and then seek to put that land in trust regardless of their historical ties to the area.
To be clear, most tribes do not fit this mold. Most play by the rules and acquire land in appropriate locations.
But as wealthy Las Vegas casino interests search for ways to expand their gaming syndicates, the problem is getting worse. These syndicates have no interest in preserving native cultures and they have little interest in pursuing other forms of economic development; so they also have little interest in limiting casinos to bone fide historical tribal lands.
The tragic part is that these casinos are going up despite objections from communities and other Native American tribes. That is why I am introducing the Tribal Gaming Eligibility Act.
This legislation addresses the problems that arise from off reservation casinos by requiring that tribes meet two simple conditions before taking land into trust for gaming:
First the tribe must demonstrate a “substantial direct modern connection to the land.”
Second, the tribe must demonstrate a “substantial direct aboriginal connection to the land.”
Simply put, tribes must show that both they, and their ancestors, have a connection to the land in question.
California voters thought they settled the question of reservation shopping in 2000 when Proposition 1A authorized the Governor to negotiate gambling compacts with tribes, provided that gaming only occurred “on Indian lands.”
The words “on Indian lands” were critical. This made clear that gaming is appropriate only on a tribe’s historical lands, and voters endorsed this bargain with 65 percent of the vote.
But fast-forward 12 years and this agreement is being put to the test. More than 100 new Las Vegas style casinos have opened in the State in the last 12 years.
Unfortunately things aren’t slowing down; the Department of the Interior has approved three extremely controversial new casinos just last year, some nowhere near the tribe’s aboriginal territory or current reservation.
When given the opportunity voters have rejected the idea of reservation shopping. Two years ago in Richmond, CA, a tribe proposed taking land into trust at Point Molate to open a 4,000-slot-machine mega-casino. Proponents touted it as a major economic engine for a depressed area.
But the voters of Richmond knew the reality was far different. The project threatened to burden state and local government services, and it threatened to irreparably change the character of the community.
So Richmond voters made it clear how they felt by overwhelmingly rejecting the advisory measure by a margin of 58 to 42. Voters also elected two new city council members who strongly opposed the casino. It was an unambiguous rejection of this reservation shopping proposal.
Fortunately the Department of the Interior rejected the misguided Point Molate proposal. But voters in Yuba County were not so lucky.
In 2005, Yuba County voters had an opportunity to weigh in on a casino in this mostly rural and suburban Northern California community. By a margin of 52-48, voters rejected the proposal. Many cited concerns about crime as a reason they opposed the project.
But after the dust settled, the Department of the Interior decided to move forward with the project anyway. Despite the fact that voters rejected it and only one of the 21 public officials in the area polled on the issue expressed support for the project.
Moreover, the Department’s claim that even one local official supported the project is dubious. The so-called support is based on a Memorandum of Understanding the County entered into prior to the advisory election. The county never offered a letter of support when consulted and still has not to this day.
As a former mayor, I know the financial pressures that local governments face, especially in these tough times. The temptation to support large casinos, with the promises of hundreds of construction jobs, can be strong.
But I also know the heavy price that society pays for the siren song of gambling. This price includes addiction and crime, strained public services and increased traffic congestion.
Some Indian gaming proponents and their out of state gaming syndicate backers would have us believe that these off-reservation gaming establishments are a sign of growth and economic development.
But a 2006 report, titled Gambling in the Golden State, paints a different picture. The report compiled a comprehensive body of research on the effects of casinos on their surrounding communities. The results were staggering.
New casinos are associated with a 10 percent increase in violent crime and a 10 percent increase in bankruptcy rates.
New casinos are also associated with an increase in law enforcement expenditures of $15.34 per resident.
California spends an estimated $1 billion to deal with problem-gamblers and pathological-gamblers, 75 percent of which identify Indian casinos as their primary gambling preference.
The report confirms what many local elected officials and community activists already know: casinos come at a tremendous cost.
Some have tried to mischaracterize my legislation. They have said it limits the sovereignty of tribes or it destroys the ability to undertake economic development.
But I am here today to say that nothing could be farther from the truth.
The bill preserves the right of tribes to acquire trust land in any location, provided they secure the approval of the Governor and meet the strict two-part determination standards.
The bill puts no limits on where a tribe can acquire land for any purpose other than gaming.
Because the fact of the matter is that most casinos are appropriately placed, on historical tribal lands, and there is no need to argue about the legitimacy of these establishments.
My legislation only deals with those proposals that are truly beyond the scope of Congressional intent when the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was passed in 1988.
I look forward to working with my colleagues on this important issue.