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Moratorium urged for off-reservation casinos

WASHINGTON (BP)–Opponents of gambling expansion are calling for the federal government to institute a two-year moratorium on permitting the development of off-reservation casinos.

Gambling foes from more than 20 states gathered at a recent Washington news conference to call for the Bush administration to halt the approval of casinos off Native American reservations in order for Congress to study a 1988 law regulating Indian gambling.

An off-reservation casino, also referred to as reservation shopping, involves the purchase of non-reservation property by an Indian tribe, which asks the federal government to hold the land in trust, making it tribal land as a result. Private developers then are able to build casinos on the land. State and local laws do not apply to such casinos, which are not taxable, the opponents said.

Reservation shopping “is happening more and more across the country, and then in parachutes the casino developers, the Donald Trumps, the guy who comes in with the money says, ‘I want to build a casino there on this new Indian land,’” said Jeff Benedict, an author and president of the Connecticut Alliance Against Casino Expansion, at an Oct. 7 news conference sponsored by the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion.

Bridgeport, Ct., and downtown Buffalo, N.Y., are two of the locations where Indian tribes are seeking to establish off-reservation casinos, Benedict said.

“[T]he group that may be getting exploited the most in all this [is] the Indian tribes,” he said. “[The] guys that are walking away with the bags full of money in most cases are not the tribes, and the guys who are left holding the bag in most cases are the states and the towns where these things land.”

The proliferation of gambling is causing widespread societal problems, Benedict said. These include increases in divorces, suicides, bankruptcies and property foreclosures, he told reporters.

A two-year moratorium on permits for off-reservation casinos would enable Congress to re-examine the 17-year-old Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which has “more holes in it than Swiss cheese,” Benedict said. “It’s being exploited to the detriment of Indian tribes; it’s hurting states, and it’s disregarding the needs of local communities and citizens.”

A Southern Baptist specialist on gambling issues also endorsed a moratorium.

“It is crucial for the United States to have some time to assess the impact of more gambling expansion on our nation,” said Barrett Duke, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s vice president for public policy and research. “We must have time to assess any new gambling expansion, for once its starts, history teaches us it is nearly impossible to turn back.

“Already, we see gambling interests taking advantage of the tragedies on the Gulf Coast,” Duke said. “It is obvious that the gambling industry’s insatiable appetite for money will constantly push for more opportunity for gain. People with no vested interest in gambling must be given time to determine the legality as well as the impact of gambling expansion. I, for one, believe we have too much gambling already in our nation, and we are paying a terrible price for every dollar that gambling brings in.”

The Bush administration has surprisingly proposed tax breaks for casinos as part of the economic recovery package for Gulf Coast states in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., spoke against the plan from the floor of the House of Representatives Sept. 22 and sent a letter to President Bush protesting the idea.

“I do not have the words to express the depth of my disappointment” with such a plan, Wolf said in his letter. He called the proposal a “dramatic shift from current federal policy.”

“This special interest incentive would be a disgrace,” Wolf wrote Bush. “I trust you will do the right thing and make sure federal resources go to the poor, the needy and the vulnerable and not the gambling interests who already have insurance to cover catastrophic events like hurricanes.”