Regulatory Updates

NIGC Report: Indian Gaming Working Group Successes

Chuck Choney
Chuck Choney

by Chuck Choney, NIGC Commissioner

For the past two years, the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) has been involved in two major endeavors: Class II Game Classification and Minimum Internal Control Standards (MICS) revisions. During the same period, the NIGC participated in the formation and implementation of the Indian Gaming Working Group (IGWG). To be discussed in this report are the successes of the IGWG and the reasons for it happening.

Among its goals, the NIGC provides a statutory basis for the regulation of gaming by an Indian tribe adequate to shield it from organized crime and other corrupting influences, to insure that the Indian tribe is the primary beneficiary of the gaming operations, and to assure that gaming is conducted fairly and honestly by both operators and players alike. This is in accordance with the policies and goals of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. The NIGC also has the statutory authority to protect tribal gaming revenues and the integrity of the Indian gaming industry. These very sound goals, along with the institutional goals of the other six member agencies of the IGWG, provide the basis for the foundation of the IGWG.

Member agencies of the IGWG are the NIGC; the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); Bureau of Indian Affairs, Office of Law Enforcement Services; Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Office of Tribal Government; Department of the Interior (DOI), Office of the Inspector General (OIG); Department of the Treasury, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN); and the Department of Justice (DOJ), United States Attorney's Sub Committee on Indian Issues.

After the IGWG was organized, the member agencies met and formulated the following goals:

1) Enhancing cooperation among member agencies

2) Obtaining commitments among members to under take an active role

3) Pooling resources

4) Coordinating roles/functions

5) Developing investigative strategies

One of the primary reasons for the establishment of the IGWG is the rapid and tremendous growth of Indian gaming. In July 2005, NIGC Chairman Phil Hogen announced the figures for the gross revenues earned by gaming tribes for 2004. The amount was $19.4 billion, an increase of $2.6 billion or 15.3 percent over 2003 gross gaming revenues. Based on this statistic it is clear that Indian gaming is still growing with no indication that it will level off or start to diminish. When there is an industry that is predominantly cash intensive such as gaming, there are those persons who will try anything in their power to get a share of these revenues. This is where the IGWG will have an impact in protecting tribal gaming assets.

In keeping with the goals set forth by the IGWG, member agencies can now share expertise and experiences, pool their resources, and cooperate among themselves to bring an investigation of criminal activity at an Indian gaming facility to its logical conclusion.

In the relatively short time of the IGWG's existence there have been several notable successes. The successes mentioned for this report are not by any means inclusive. Foremost among them is the fact that criminal activities at Indian casinos are now being properly investigated and subsequently prosecuted.

United States Attorney Tom Heffelfinger, District of Minnesota, who chairs the DOJ's Sub Committee on Indian Issues and is a member of the IGWG, has recommended to members of the sub committee to lower or waive these threshold amounts. His recommendations have led to some districts lowering and in some instances waiving their threshold amounts for prosecution. Those districts where the threshold amounts have been lowered or waived, are now vigorously prosecuting persons caught committing crimes at Indian casinos. The message we are sending to the gaming tribes is important: if anyone is caught committing a crime at an Indian casino they will now be prosecuted.

Another important IGWG success is the effort by several member agencies to pool their resources to prevent organized crime from infiltrating Indian gaming. In September 2004, this combined effort led to an eighty-eight count indictment of seventeen members of a New York organized crime family for numerous interstate gambling violations. These violations ranged from gambling conspiracy to money laundering to illegal transmission of wagering information. Member agencies who participated in this endeavor were the NIGC; the FBI; Department of the Interior, Office of the Inspector General; Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and the IRS. This is a good example of the member agencies pooling their resources and fulfilling all of the IGWG's stated goals.

IGWG has also been successful in implementing training not only for its members but also for tribal, state, and local law enforcement agencies that have gaming tribes within their jurisdictions. This allows all IGWG members to provide their expertise to those who will most benefit from the training provided.For example, IRS provided accounting training to Indian casino employees pertinent to recognizing money laundering. It should be noted that previous training was geared toward law enforcement. It is now projected that the next series of training will be aimed at tribal gaming commissioners and their staffs.

The final success story focuses on the establishment of local gaming working groups. This has been accomplished in California, Oklahoma, Connecticut, New Mexico, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. These local working groups meet periodically to discuss issues they face in their prospective states or areas. They are concerned with the same issues that confront the IGWG but on a local basis. The NIGC has tasked each of their region directors to identify states and regions where local working groups can be established. They are then asked to determine the feasibility of organizing a local working group. Once these areas are identified and if it is feasible to have a working group in place, they are to undertake efforts to get them organized and working. With this is place, more successes will be forthcoming.

Not many groups can claim as much success or have as much impact as the IGWG in its short existence. A reported income of $19.4 billion for 2004 is proof positive that Indian gaming is still expanding beyond expectations. This also increases the IGWG's importance in protecting tribal gaming revenues as well as the integrity of Indian gaming. Continued vigilance on part of the IGWG and tribal gaming administrators will ensure profits derived from Indian gaming will go to its intended beneficiaries - tribal governments and their members.

Chuck Choney, NIGC Commissioner, can be reached by calling (202) 632-7003 or email chuck_choney@nigc.gov