Since President Ronald Reagan signed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, every president of the United States has had a critical role in Indian gaming.
Whether it’s by their political appointments at the Department of the Interior or the National Indian Gaming Commission,
or the policies they promulgate, presidents can accelerate or inhibit the growth of Indian gaming.
I was honored to serve as deputy assistant secretary for Indian Affairs for President Clinton during a six-year period when Indian gaming gross revenues grew by $10 billion.
President Trump’s administration has generally been favorable to Indian gaming, with some notable exceptions regarding the Mashpee tribe of Massachusetts and a halt to trust-land acquisitions in Alaska.
As the 2020 presidential campaign progresses, it’s worth examining the Indian gaming policies of three candidates likely to be finalists for the Democratic nomination for president:
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
None of the three Democratic candidates above has an explicit position regarding Indian gaming.
Sanders’ policy statement on Native American issues focuses largely on social and environmental issues, like climate change, violence against native women and health care.
In direct conversations I’ve had with Senator Sanders, he expressed strong support for tribal sovereignty, treaty rights and land protection, which would seem to bode well for tribal self-determination and Indian gaming.
Sanders has not been quoted saying any disparaging remarks regarding Native Americans generally,
or with regard to Indian gaming, like President Trump in the early 1990s (before he partnered with an Indian tribe).
Sanders, however, has not noticeably championed the Vermont state-recognized Abenaki Tribe in its efforts to seek federal recognition after being rejected by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
He also has not sided with the tribes with respect to the proposed Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act,
and its goal to remove federal agency jurisdiction over employees in tribal commercial enterprises,
like casinos. Even so, it doesn’t appear that Indian gaming would be negatively affected by a Sanders presidency,
and his outreach to Native American leaders on the campaign trail indicates he would consult with tribes on major issues and likely appoint officials favorable to native interests.
Biden has a long history of working on Native American issues,
both as vice president and as former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
His most direct work affecting Native Americans has been on the Violence Against Women Act provisions,
dealing with tribal jurisdiction and on the application of the death penalty on Indian reservations.
Biden has received high marks from tribal leaders on these issues.
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