Congress can't get handle on Indian gaming

So the whole Indian gaming idea isn't working out quite how Congress envisioned it? We hate to say we told you so, but ...

When Indian casinos began to spread in the 1990s, we were skeptical because of the unfair advantages they had over Nevada's gaming industry, which is taxed, and because of worries that regulation and oversight would be lax.

We never opposed the casinos themselves. As the premier gaming state, Nevada may not like the competition but could hardly begrudge someone else from making a profit in the same industry.

Our concern was whether the government agencies rushing to open Indian reservations to gambling halls knew what they were doing. Nothing since has reassured us they do.

This week, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee got another wakeup call, this time from Sen. John McCain, that loopholes in the law could be allowing casinos to be built anywhere a tribe can buy land.

One of those loopholes was written by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., to allow a tribe to build a casino in San Pablo because the tribe has no land.

Now that Indian gaming is out of the bag, it's going to be impossible to stuff it back in. Tribal governments, which do not have to open their books to anyone outside the tribe, are accountable only to their members. Giant gaming corporations are running operations for many tribes with little accountability to anyone else.

The biggest scandal so far has been mostly political, involving a double-dealing lobbyist for a Texas tribe. But members of several tribes are questioning how gaming revenues are being divided and spent, which by law must go toward education, health care, law enforcement and fire protection, water and sewer services, and elderly and child care.

It is an industry - grossing $18.5 billion, twice Nevada's take - ripe for exploitation. Congress can spend its time trying to plug the holes it has allowed in Indian gaming regulations or declare a moratorium on any new Indian casinos until it comes up with comprehensive solutions.


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