Congress May Remove Obstacles to Online Gaming for Tribal Casinos

Posted on: July 5, 2021, 02:47h. 

Last updated on: July 5, 2021, 03:30h.

Two congressmen have filed legislation that would seek to help more tribal casinos implement online gaming.

Tribal online gaming
US Rep. Lou Correa speaks during a House Homeland Security Committee meeting last month. On Thursday, the California Democrat filed a bill he said would remove barriers for tribal casinos to offer online gaming. (Image: US Rep. Lou Correa/Twitter)

US Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) issued a statement into the Congressional record Thursday to introduce HR 4308. In his remarks, he said he filed the bill to do what lawmakers would have done in 1988 if online gaming was around. That’s when Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. However, it wouldn’t authorize any type of gaming, leaving that to the states.

“This bill would clarify that, for purposes of tribal government gaming, the location of the wager occurs at the location of the server, unless a state and Indian tribe otherwise agree,” Correa said in his remarks. “Making this clarification will keep intact the current system of tribal gaming and eliminate any frivolous litigation.”

The bill announcement occurred one day before a federal lawsuit was filed in Florida. That lawsuit seeks to stop the amended tribal gaming compact that would give the Seminole Tribe exclusive statewide mobile sports betting rights in that state.

Correa noted that as more states legalize forms of online gaming, including sports betting, casino games, and poker, tribal nations face the risk of losing a revenue stream that has enabled them to improve education, health care, and housing for their communities.

Congress needs to provide the clarification in my bill to ensure that tribal gaming is not relegated to the same fate as Blockbuster, but can move forward and thrive like Netflix in the era of the internet,” Correa said.

US Rep. John Katko (R-NY) joined Correa as the initial bill cosponsor.

Similar Bill Filed in 2019

This is not the first time lawmakers on Capitol Hill have sought to expand gaming rights for tribal nations.

In December 2019, then-US Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) filed a similar bill that would have removed federal barriers to offering online sports betting. However, that bill never even received a committee hearing before the congressional session ended last December.

Brindisi also lost his re-election bid for the upstate New York seat to Republican Claudia Tenney.

Another New York congressman, Democratic US Rep. Brian Higgins, was also a sponsor of Brindisi’s bill, as was US Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) Both of those members are still serving in the House of Representatives.

New Developments in Big States

A lot has happened regarding tribal casinos and the expansion of US online gaming since Brindisi’s bill.

Besides the amended gaming compact that’s now being challenged in Florida, New York approved mobile sports betting in the budget bill that passed in April. However, even that proposal has generated concerns from tribal operators there.

The Oneida Indian Nation has said the current plan in New York could prohibit residents in a 10-county upstate area where the tribe has exclusive gaming rights from placing bets online in the region.

Katko’s district includes part of the Oneida gaming area.

Tribal leaders also said they could suspend making $70 million in payments to local and state governments if excluded from sports betting.

The New York application process, which has been delayed for unknown reasons, calls for the Gaming Commission to award extra points for providers that establish a revenue-sharing pact with a tribal gaming authority.

In late May, the California Secretary of State approved a ballot measure for November 2022. That referendum would allow the state’s tribal gaming operators to offer sports betting on tribal lands.

Bill Could Affect Other States with Tribal Casinos

The bill could also impact tribal operators in other states. New Mexico’s tribal casinos were among the first in the country to offer sports betting after the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA)  in 2018.

North Carolina currently allows its tribal casinos to offer sportsbooks. Indiana recently approved an amended compact with the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians to let them have a retail sportsbook. However, the Indian agreement did not allow for mobile access off of tribal land.

Meanwhile, Connecticut will allow its tribal gaming operators to offer statewide sports betting. Michigan, in January, became the first state to allow its tribal casinos to offer mobile gaming by allowing them to pursue state licensing for online access.