Tribes Eye Unprecedented US Online, Retail Gambling Expansion Under New Federal Rules

  • Part of the proposal would allow tribes to offer statewide online betting through compacts 
  • The Bureau of Indian Affairs also aims to make it easier for tribes to acquire land for casinos
  • Opponents believe the measures may take away state government autonomy in betting policy
Federal Law book
The US gambling industry could witness a shift in power as federal rule changes may soon allow Native American tribes to expand their operations both online and in retail. [Image:]

Two-front advance in the cards

Native American tribes could soon advance their US gambling operations on both online and retail fronts under proposed rule changes by the federal government.

The Wall Street Journal on Sunday provided the details of a proposal submitted last week by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The federal agency is proposing new rules allowing tribes to negotiate statewide online betting deals under tribal-state compacts.

remote wagers taken through servers on tribal lands would count as on-reservation betting

According to the proposal, remote wagers taken through servers on tribal lands would count as on-reservation betting, an issue that had previously proven a sticking point for tribal compacts to expand betting options.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has additionally proposed to relax the rules around allowing tribes to purchase additional land that state and federal bodies could eventually approve for casino development.

Paving the way

“Internet gaming is rapidly becoming the largest expansion of gaming in modern history and is quickly developing into a reality where tribes are on the outside looking in,” said Bo Mazzetti, chairman of the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians in California, in a letter supporting the changes.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs proposed the rule changes in late 2022. The move was, in part, because supporters believe the gambling industry has transformed since the US Congress enacted the federal law regulating tribal gaming 35 years ago. The proposal states that the expansion of state-taxed commercial casinos and state-run lotteries has turned tribal and state governments into rivals.

The additional proposal by the federal agency would make it easier for tribes to acquire land, a process in which tribes request the US government move properties on their behalf into a trust. For off-reservation land, the Interior Department would examine how land purchase would benefit a given tribe, with distance to the reservation not a priority.

Lost tax revenue fears

According to the WSJ, the proposals have come under fire from commercial gambling operators and state and local government leaders. Both parties are concerned about losing tax revenues and having less influence over the location of new casinos.

20 Republican state attorneys-general sent a letter listing multiple concerns around the proposals. An excerpt of the letter from Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen claims the proposals would:

authorize an unprecedented expansion of tribal casino gaming.”

Knudsen added the expansion would unjustifiably restrict “the ability of state governments to adopt and enforce their own policies on gaming matters.” Some believe that the the amendments would require states to permit forms of gambling that some state laws might not have otherwise allowed, such as sports betting or iGaming in states that haven’t legalized it.

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