INDIAN GAMING: Vegas-bashing, Web gambling, EFCA...What next?
by Jana McKeag
September 1, 2009
The U.S. House of Representatives has scattered to the winds and their respective codels and town hall meetings, the Senate has declared a truce (for now) in their battles over health care and cash-for-clunkers and are, mercifully, on their way back to their home states to test which way the wind is blowing with their constituents. Yes, it’s certainly been an “interesting” six months in our nation’s capital, to say the least, and the question remains as to how interesting the next six months will be.
The gaming industry overall has taken some unwarranted hits from the Obama administration, which has implied for some unknown reason, that Las Vegas and other gaming destinations are simply luxury trips for fat cats, which leads me to believe that administration officials have probably never even been to Las Vegas. The administration has gone so far as to send federal employees a thinly veiled warning that Las Vegas is not an acceptable venue for meetings and conferences. The American Gaming Association in partnership with the travel industry has been working feverishly to combat these misrepresentations but so far has been stymied in its efforts, although it continues to work with the Nevada congressional delegation to reverse this injustice.
Another potentially industry-changing event was the introduction of the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act (H.R. 2267) by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), which was followed closely by Congressman Jim McDermott’s (D-Wash.) Internet Gambling Regulation and Tax Enforcement Act. The bills offer opportunities as well as challenges both to the commercial and Native American gaming industries. As we enter the last half of the year, with so many major national policy issues still unresolved, there is increasing speculation that Frank will be able to move his bill forward before the end of the year. And in the waning minutes before the Senate adjournment for August recess, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced his version of an Internet gambling bill which is limited to online poker. Frank has 54 co-sponsors to date, a Senate version of the bill, and with a national economy that’s searching for new sources of tax revenue with limited opportunities on the horizon, it’s not that unlikely that we may see movement on H.R. 2267.
The Employee Free Choice Act, also known as “The Card Check Bill,” got off to a rousing start at the beginning of the administration and the 111th Congress as organized labor strongly encouraged (emphasis on “strongly”) President Obama and the Democratic Congress to make good on their promise to make EFCA their No. 1 legislative priority. As you may recall, EFCA would, among other things, do away with secret ballots for workers to decide whether or not to be unionized. The rousing start has, at this point, diminished to a whimpering plea, due in large part to moderate Democratic senators whose constituencies still believe that our constitutional right to vote without intimidation or threats by third parties also includes voting on whether or not our workplaces are unionized.
EFCA also presents a number of issues that would be unique to casinos operated by tribal governments. For example, what would the affect be on tribal labor ordinances that have been voluntarily negotiated between a union and a tribal government? If a tribal government has chosen not to unionize but eventually is forced to as the result of EFCA, in the event of a strike, what happens to the tribal governmental resources that are generated by the tribal casino, and how does that affect the tribal governmental services provided to tribal members? Do the tribally operated health clinics close down? Does funding for scholarships disappear? Do services provided for tribal elders simply vanish while the tribal government enters into perhaps lengthy and expensive negotiations with the union? Passage of EFCA would be economically burdensome to an already burdened gaming industry. It would be devastating to the Indian gaming industry and Indian tribes. And even though some Democratic members have made promises to tribal governments that they would get them a “carve-out” that would exempt them under the National Labor Relations Act so EFCA would not apply to them, they seem to have conveniently forgotten that tribes are, in fact, one of labor’s major targets, right up there with Wal-Mart.
Tribal casinos are one of the last bastions of non-union labor. Those tribes that have chosen to allow their casinos to be unionized have negotiated those agreements on their own terms, as sovereign nations. Do they really think that organized labor would allow an amendment that exempts tribes to be included in the final EFCA legislation? Labor has spent millions of dollars in their fight to unionize Foxwoods Casino, owned and operated by the sovereign Mashantucket Pequot tribal nation, and the Pequots have spent millions fighting them. Anyone who thinks a tribal carve-out would make it through a conference committee and into the final bill is very seriously mistaken.
Stay tuned. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Jana McKeag is president of Lowry Strategies and a former commissioner of the National Indian Gaming Commission. She is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and a graduate of Gettysburg College and Harvard University.
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