Senator McCain Introduces Off-Reservation Gaming Bill >>

August 3rd, 2011

Senator McCain Introduces Off-Reservation Gaming Bill

On July 28, 2011, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) with co-sponsor Jon Kyl (R-AZ) introduced S. 1424, the “Off-Reservation Land Acquisition Guidance Act.” The stated intention of the bill is to reinstate the “Artman memo” on off-reservation gaming. This January 2008 guidance memo, issued by former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Carl Artman, required greater scrutiny for tribal off-reservation land into trust applications for gaming purposes. The memo required a determination of whether the land sought was within a commutable distance of the tribe’s current reservation. A finding that the land was beyond a commutable distance weighed against placing the land into trust. The guidance also required that greater weight be provided to state and local concerns regarding jurisdiction, zoning, and removal of lands from tax rolls.

Assistant Secretary Larry EchoHawk rescinded the Artman memo on June 13, 2011. Assistant Secretary EchoHawk reasoned that “IGRA and the Department’s regulations … adequately account for the legal requirements and policy considerations that must be addressed” prior to approving off-reservation gaming land into trust applications. He noted, “the Department rarely has authorized a tribe to engage in off-reservation gaming.”

S. 1424 largely follows and would codify the Artman memo. The bill defines “off-reservation land” as land that is: (1) located outside of and noncontiguous to the reservation of an Indian tribe; (2) likely to qualify for or be associated with Indian gaming; and (3) located beyond a reasonable commuting distance from the reservation of that Indian tribe.

The bill requires the Secretary, before making a determination to place off-reservation land (as defined above) into trust, to prepare a report that examines the on-reservation benefits to the tribe in acquiring the trust land with a focus on on-reservation jobs.

Further, the bill would require the the Secretary to prepare a similar report that examines concerns raised by affected state and local governments. For this report, the Secretary must consider: (1) whether the transfer of jurisdiction to the tribe will disrupt local government operations; (2) the effects on the state and local government tax rolls; (3) compatibility of gaming with current zoning requirements; and (4) increased traffic, noise, and “other negative effects” associated with gaming.

Based on these two reports, the bill would prohibit the Secretary from placing off-reservation land into trust for gaming purposes unless the tribe adequately addresses the concerns raised by state and local governments. Above all, Indian gaming must be compatible with local zoning and planning requirements, thereby making local zoning laws apply to Indian gaming. In addition, under the bill, the tribe must submit the following: plans, contracts, or agreements relating to gaming on the land sought; a request for a written opinion from the Office of Indian Gaming that the off-reservation land is eligible for gaming; and any other information the Secretary requires.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. The Committee recently held a hearing on IGRA but did not discuss S. 1424.

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