When the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act became law in 1988, no one imagined that it would become a Trojan Horse that would deliver Las Vegas-style casino gambling into communities across America. Having saturated local markets, many tribes are now seeking to acquire land near other, sometimes-distant, population centers, and converting it to “sovereign” territory, in an effort to shoehorn casinos into areas where they’re often not wanted by local populations. Once land becomes part of a reservation, it typically becomes exempt from local taxes, state labor laws, municipal ordinances, zoning restrictions and environmental review. In one of the most egregious cases, in 2004, the Cheyenne-Arapahoe Tribes of Oklahoma filed a 27 million acre land claim which included all of Denver and Colorado Springs, but offered to drop it in exchange for the approval of a Las Vegas-style casino near Denver Airport.
“These efforts are being funded by ‘shadowy’ developers who underwrite the litigation expenses, lobbyist fees and even the cost of land in exchange for a cut of the profits,” James T. Martin, the executive director of the United South and Eastern Tribes, told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in May 2005. “If even one of these deals is approved, the floodgates for this kind of ‘reservation shopping’ will open throughout the country.” (Mr. Martin, it should be said, is no opponent of gambling: his organization includes tribes whose main goal is to thwart new competition against their own casinos.)
(Fergus M. Bordewich, “The Least Transparent Industry in America”, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 5)(subscriber-only).