Gabe Galanda in "Indian Gaming": Why Isn't the NIGC Enforcing IGRA?

In a column for the feature, "Ask the Experts: Spotlight on 2015 and Beyond," in the New Year edition of Indian Gaming magazine, Gabe Galanda questions the NIGC's commitment to enforcing IGRA and related laws in Indian Country:

2015 will bring answers to growing questions surrounding the National Indian Gaming Commission’s ambivalence about enforcement of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.Indian Gaming

In Bay Mills, various state amici curiae argued to the U.S. Supreme Court that the “Commission only rarely invokes its authority to enforce the law against Indian tribes.” That criticism tracks with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)’s recent preliminary report to Congress that “[i]n recent years, the Commission has rarely initiated enforcement actions.” According to GAO findings, the NIGC issued a single Notice of Violation in 2012 and 2013—combined.

Meanwhile, as tensions boil over at several California tribal casinos, people are asking: Where’s the NIGC?

After prolonged IGRA violations and related physical violence within the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, a federal judge closed the tribe’s casino, describing the situation as an “explosive keg.” The NIGC took no enforcement action for nearly three years. According to the Fresno Bee, former NIGC Chairman Phil Hogen said “he’s unsure why the NIGC now takes longer to file action against tribes not following Indian gaming regulations than it did under his watch.”

Likewise, the NIGC failed to help resolve a violent situation within the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians this summer. Former NIGC Regional Director Ken Many Wounds issued an investigatory report that described an “unprecedented show of force by armed guards” and “palpable potential for violence” throughout Paskenta’s casino floor. He expressed “surprise that the NIGC has not taken swift action to shut down the Rolling Hills Casino” and “by the rather nonchalant pace of the NIGC’s investigation” into obvious IGRA and state-tribal compact violations.

And as mass Indian disenrollment accompanies these catastrophes, so do tribal revenue allocation plan-related IGRA violations. Yet, the NIGC has not taken a single enforcement action for improper tribal gaming per capita payments in over five years.

Given that certain tribes’ irresponsible use of gaming revenues once caused Senator John McCain to propose an IGRA amendment to allow federal review of a “reasonable method of providing for the general welfare of the Indian tribe and the members of the Indian tribes,” non-offending tribes should be concerned.

Indeed, with the GAO’s final report expected before long, as Dave Palermo posits, its “critical assessment” of the Commission, “coupled with diminished NIGC enforcement, could be viewed by senators as justification to seek increased federal regulation of the industry.” Before that opportunity might present itself to the Republican-controlled Congress, hopefully the NIGC will reestablish a meaningful enforcement presence in Indian Country.

Gabriel “Gabe” Galanda is the Managing Partner at Galanda Broadman. He is a citizen of the Round Valley Indian Tribes. Gabe can be reached at 206.300.7801 or