WASHINGTON — Gambling lobbyists for American Indians have formed an unlikely alliance with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., to head off an amendment that could allow Alaska native corporations to open casinos anywhere in the mainland United States.
Sponsored by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the amendment would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust in the lower 48 states for Alaska native corporations for gambling purposes.
Stevens first considered attaching the amendment to an omnibus spending bill late last year but did not follow through. This year, he was eyeing defense appropriations bill, which passed the Senate last week, but still has not proposed the amendment, sources said.
“We’re not going to comment on an amendment that we have not offered,” said Melanie Alvord, a spokeswoman for Stevens.
Cook Inlet Regional Inc., or CIRI, of Anchorage is one of the 13 Alaska native corporations which would benefit from the Stevens’ amendment.
“A number of native corporations (in Alaska) have had a longstanding interest in partnering with tribes in the lower 48 (states) on economic development projects, and this would be a vehicle for doing that,” CIRI spokesman Mark Kroloff said.
But Kroloff said he’s not aware of any current efforts by Stevens to push his amendment.
The Stevens’ amendment brings back bad memories for Reid.
Near the end of the congressional session in 2000, Rep. George Miller, R-Calif., slipped an amendment into a massive spending bill that allowed the 220-member Lytton band of Pomo Indians in Santa Rosa, Calif., to acquire about 10 acres of land in nearby San Pablo and convert a card room into a full-blown casino.
The Miler amendment infuriated Nevada gaming interests, particularly in the northern part of the state.
Like the Miller amendment, the Stevens’ measure is cloaked in layers of legislative language that helps disguise its purpose, said a lobbyist who requested anonymity.
“Senator Reid worked on the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, and he feels this (Stevens’) amendment would run counter to that,” Reid spokeswoman Tessa Hafen said.
Reid rarely agrees with the National Indian Gaming Association, the chief lobbying arm for tribal casinos, but the senator and the association are joined in their opposition to the Stevens’ amendment.
“We already are feeling pressure from state governments that want more of our (gaming) revenue to help balance their budgets. This would only aggravate that problem,” said an association official who requested anonymity.
Lobbyists for the association and mainstream casinos also charge the Stevens’ amendment would hurt other Indian casinos by allowing the Alaska corporations to run gambling businesses without complying with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.
Kroloff disagreed, saying the Stevens’ amendment never sought to exempt Alaska corporations from federal regulations of Indian gaming.0