Indian casino interests gave $40 million |

Indian casino interests gave $40 million

The Associated Press

BOSTON – American Indian tribes that operate casinos have spent almost $40 million in contributions to Washington politicians and payments to lobbyists over the past five years, The Boston Globe reported Monday.

Meanwhile, lobbyists for the tribes have mounted an all-out effort to minimize federal oversight, and the budget of the commission overseeing Indian casinos has remained well below that of comparable state gambling regulatory agencies, the newspaper said.

As a result, officials acknowledge that the federal government has never conducted a full audit of any casino, and that it doesn’t have the tools to investigate dealings between tribes and their non-Indian backers.

”This is an industry that does not want to be regulated, so it gives large amounts of money to Congress,” said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that compiled the numbers.

Barry Brandon, formerly the government’s chief regulator at the National Indian Gaming Commission and now a lobbyist, urged Indian casino executives and lawyers at a conference last month to keep Congress from reopening legislation that first established the commission’s budget, the Globe reported.

”Your best strategy is to keep the commission at its current size,” said Brandon, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, according to the Globe. ”The $8 million budget is very limited in resources. Make sure Congress doesn’t fund them at $25-$30-$40 million, which could happen if anti-Indian, anti-gaming forces have their way in Congress.”

Brandon told the group that if the legislation is reopened, ”That would allow Congress to be the regulator, instead of you,” he said. ”Politics plays such a big role in Indian gaming.”

The leading recipients of contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, were: Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., $37,950; Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Conn., $36,650; and Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., $30,500. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., who has received $25,000 in recent years, said he supports increasing funding for the commission, though he believes Indians are policing their own casinos effectively and other issues affecting Indians like health care and education should be higher priorities.

Four auditors and 15 full-time investigators track $10 billion in revenue at 325 Indian gaming operations. By contrast, the state of New Jersey spends $58 million and employs over 200 auditors and investigators for $4 billion revenue at 12 casinos in Atlantic City alone.

Rick Hill, executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association, said tribes police themselves well.

”They have to keep customers coming,” he said. ”They’re the big losers if there are problems.”

But the commission acknowledges it simply doesn’t know if the casinos are operating cleanly, and that it makes no effort to make sure tribes spend their gaming profits only on purposes permitted by Congress.

”It’s a blind spot,” said Richard Schiff, the commission’s chief of staff.

Asked about the $1 million he spends yearly for Washington lobbyists, Chief Philip Martin of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw said: ”I learned that from the white man. If you want support, you are going to have to make friends.”

AP-WS-03-12-01 1627EST

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