Indian Bingo vs. Online Bingo

In the UK bingo halls and most online bingo sites are taxed and regulated by a central government. In the United States commercial bingo halls operate under a hodgepodge of local and state rules. In most states charity bingo games require a permit of some sort but on Native American reservations things are a lot different. Indian gaming was made possible by a Supreme Court decision in the early 1970’s that said that Native Americans on reservations could not be taxed and in addition states lack the authority to regulate Indian activities on reservations. This decision cleared the way for the first high stakes bingo operation by the Seminole tribe on Florida.

In the past many reservations were mired in abject poverty and bingo and gambling in general enabled several tribes to lift themselves out of poverty. Controversy arose when several Native American tribes began to open private casinos, bingo rooms, and lotteries on reservation lands and set jackpots and prizes above the legal limit allowed by some states. The Indians argued that their reservations were private casinos, bingo rooms, and lotteries on reservation lands nations not subject to state laws. On March 18, 1992 a report by the Department of Justice was presented to the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs that gave Indian gaming a clean bill of health and said that organized crime had failed to penetrate any Indian gaming operations.

Today there are about 400 Indian gaming operations throughout the US. Native American casinos bring in big bucks and in 2009 Indian casinos and bingo halls brought in $26.48 billion. The industry has brought prosperity to formerly poverty stricken reservations. Most tribes use the gaming revenues for education and social services. Tribes see their income threatened by online bingo and gaming. A December ruling by the US Department of Justice cleared the way for states to offer legal online gambling. Since internet games can be accessed outside the boundaries of Indian reservations the Tribes see online gaming as a very serious threat to their income.

A recent hearing by Senate Indian Affairs Committee underscored the issue. Robert Odawi Porter, president of the Seneca Nation of Indians in western New York expressed his tribe’s concerns about internet gambling. Odawi told senators “We’ve invested nearly a billion dollars tied to our geographic area. That is what we have negotiated for. Opening up Internet gaming beyond those geographic borders and allowing… the New York lottery to prey upon and seize business opportunities from patrons in our exclusivity zone is our greatest threat. We cannot stand for the disruption of these compacts either in New York or anywhere in Indian country.” One gaming law expert Kevin Washburn, dean of the University of New Mexico School of Law Administration said that issues facing tribes is one reason the federal government should step in and take control of all online gaming in the US. How this issue will play out in the future is anybody’s guess.

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