Attitudes in US towards online gambling softening?

Influential tribal alliance appears positive on Barney Frank's attempt to legalise online gambling in the USA

The publication Indian Country Today took an interesting look at attitudes in the US towards Internet gambling this week, commenting that tribal governments and commercial gambling companies are taking a softer position on the legalisation of Internet wagering, although it does not appear likely that pending legislation to permit online poker will be successful in the current session of Congress.

The publication reports that an association of California tribes has joined with the United South and Eastern Tribes in supporting federal legislation to legalise online gambling.... as long as it protects the rights of tribes operating government casinos under terms established by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

“The legalisation of Internet gambling in the United States could be a disaster for tribal government gaming, or it could be a wonderful new avenue for tribal economic development,” Chairwoman Leslie Lohse of the California Tribal Business Alliance said in a March 24th letter to Congressman Barney Frank, author of imminent legislation designed to legalise and tax online poker.

Lohse noted that federal legislation would conflict with tribal-state agreements that, in many states, give tribes the exclusive right to operate casinos, and tribal casinos have generated billions of dollars in revenue used to provide health care, education and other government services to indigenous Americans.

“We look forward to working with you to create legislation that clarifies federal law on Internet gambling and protects the interests of tribal governments,” wrote Lohse, whose association represents nine California tribes and was previously opposed to online gambling.

The Alliance is now taking a position similar to that of USET, a group of 20 tribes that late last year called for a study of the impact Internet wagering would have on tribal casinos.

The article also flags the recent comments by American Gaming Association chief exec Frank Fahrenkopf indicating that his association has shifted its previously neutral view and now believes the technology exists to allow the activity to be regulated at the state or federal level (see previous InfoPowa report).

The gambling executive said that AGA was open to the concept of legalised Internet gaming, as long as a regulatory structure was in place to protect consumers and the game’s integrity, although he did not go as far as a taking a position on any of the bills currently under consideration in Congress or individual states.

“The majority of our board now has a favorable stance on Internet gaming, as long as there is strong regulatory control," said Fahrenkopf. "But we’re not endorsing any of the bills now in the loop.”

The Indian Country Today article claims that many tribal governments and commercial casino companies fear that online gambling might adversely impact brick-and-mortar casinos. Apparently tribal opposition to online gambling comes principally from California, which in 2008 accounted for $7.3 billion of the $26.8 billion won that year by 442 government casinos operated by 237 American Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages in 28 states.

The author points to the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations, a group of 14 Southern California tribes operating some of the state’s most lucrative casinos, and the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, comprised of 25 casino and non-casino tribes, as opponents of Internet gambling.

Presenting a balanced view, the author notes that online gamblers are primarily poker players and sports bettors, sectors of wagering activity that represent less than 15 percent of the revenue generated by most land casinos. Supporters of Internet gambling therefore postulate that tribal governments and commercial casino companies could benefit from the legalisation of online wagering.

The article notes that whilst Harrah’s Entertainment, the world’s largest casino company, is lobbying for legalisation of online wagering, Wynn Resorts in Las Vegas and Macau, is opposed.

Analysing the chances for Barney Frank's attempt to legalise online gambling, the article notes that there is currently little widespread bipartisan support for three pieces of online legislation sponsored by Frank and others in the House and Senate. It opines that with no support for the legislation from tribes and the commercial casino industry it is unlikely that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, will allow a bill to come to the floor.

Despite these views, many gambling industry observers believe online wagering soon will be US-legal. With tribes and commercial casino companies easing their opposition to Internet wagering, a bill could surface in the next congressional session, they claim

Tribal leaders are expected to put together a policy position on Internet wagering at the National Indian Gaming Association annual conference April 6 – 9 in San Diego.

“There has always been this feeling that we’re not going to be able to stop it,” a Capitol Hill tribal consultant told Indian Country Today. “It’s important that tribes be on equal footing with states in terms of regulatory authority. It’s important that we not lose all the economic gains we achieved through IGRA.”

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