The Tribal Empire Strikes Back

According to, Thursday’s meeting of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs discussed the issue of online gaming, in particular poker, and presented a new twist in the ongoing battle for federal action regarding the subject.
During the meeting, committee Chairman and Hawaii Senator Daniel Akaka presented a draft of a bill that would allow the Indian gaming community to open up for online gambling and poker. Entitled the “Tribal Online Gaming Act of 2012,” the draft opens by stating that there “is uncertainty about the laws of the United States concerning internet gaming.” Noting that Indian gaming consortiums comprise 40% of all gaming in the United States, the Act designates that any federal action on the online gaming question “must provide economic benefits for Indian tribes” and sets out guidelines for Indian operation of such affairs.
The draft bill is quite skeletal in its framework – as a draft is expected to be – but there are several interesting components to it. The Act designates the Secretary of Commerce as the overseer of tribal gaming, setting up a new government agency – the Office of Tribal Online Gaming – to assist with the oversight of the new industry. The Secretary of Commerce would appoint a Director who “(has) experience in tribal gaming activities.”
The purpose of the new agency would be much like what has been seen in other legislation. The new Office of Tribal Online Gaming would authorize individual Indian tribes to offer internet gaming – and maintain a list of those tribes that opt out of the agreement – and would authorize individual service providers through its office. There are also several rules laid out that the Indian tribes would have to abide by.
If enacted, the bill would issue Indian tribes the right to accept bets only from people located in the United States. They would have to be at least 21 years old and in an area that doesn’t prohibit online gaming. The draft bill would also provide a measure of punishment for the new agency to police the industry, although those exact details are not exactly spelled out.
Perhaps the most intriguing segment of the draft bill is that of any future federal legislation and taxation of the Indian online gaming arena. If the federal government passes laws regarding online gaming outside of poker, the proposed bill would not be impacted and the Indian tribes would have the right to offer those other games. The revenues generated from any Indian online gaming operations would also be exempt from any federal or state taxes.
What effect this new bill will have on any of the action currently ongoing in Washington D. C. is unknown. Currently there are two bills in the House of Representatives – Texas Rep. Joe Barton’s “Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2011” has garnered much more support than California Rep. John Campbell’s licensing and regulatory bill – but both have languished in their different committees without any action to push them in front of the House membership.
The recent news of a proposed deal between Nevada Senator and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and outgoingArizona Sen. Jon Kyl has perked the interest of online poker players. That proposed compromise bill hasn’t been presented by either Senator as of yet as they try to bring together the different factions in the Senate to ensure its passage. The Reid/Kyl bill allegedly would expressly authorize for online poker while maintaining the ban on other forms of online gaming. It is thought that this proposed bill may be ready after the 2012 elections during the “lame duck” session of Congress prior to the new Congress being seated in January.
Whether the federal government or the Indian tribes are the overseers of a future online gaming industry in the United States, it appears that both have recognized the need for a regulated and taxed industry. It now remains to be seen if either side can move forward their appropriate legislation to bring about a “new world” for online poker and perhaps other forms of gaming in the United States.

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