Tribal Law Experts Weigh in On New Trump NIGC Nominee

Posted on: June 30, 2019, 02:00h. 

Last updated on: June 28, 2019, 07:48h.

Two attorneys familiar with E. Sequoyah Simermeyer — the nominee to chair the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) — describe him as an experienced and “fierce” advocate for the tribes.

E. Sequoyah Simermeyer was nominated this week as chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission. Here, in 2016, he is with NIGC attorney Rea Cisneros. (Image:

Simermeyer was recommended for the post this week by President Donald Trump. He has been an associate commissioner for the NIGC — a powerful national regulatory body — since 2015.

I have known Sequoyah Simermeyer for years, and he has always been a fierce and compassionate advocate of Indian tribes,” Rory Dilweg, an attorney at Colorado’s Berg Hill Greenleaf Ruscitti, told “I expect he will remain so in his new position as chairman even while he must uphold the letter and intent of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).”

“Sequoyah is a name familiar to most in the Native community from his prior work on Congressional staff and subsequent positions,” added Oklahoma attorney Gary Pitchlynn, who also teaches at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

“He has a great deal of experience working with Congressional staff and tribes and can provide strength and credibility to the commission’s relationship with both,” Pitchlynn told

In a statement released to the media, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said Simermeyer “is the ideal candidate… I urge Congress to confirm him quickly.”

Senate, DOI Experience

Earlier in his career, the nominee was counselor and deputy chief of staff to the Department of the Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. He was also counsel for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Simermeyer is a graduate of Dartmouth College, Vermont Law School and Cornell Law School. He is also a member of the Coharie tribe.

Pitchlynn says the NIGC chairman “sets the tone for the relationship of the commission with tribes while policing the industry.” The chair also has “significant authority” under the IGRA as the “first-line decision maker” in enforcement actions, subject to appeals that can be brought before the full commission, Pitchlynn added.

The chair can issue notices of violation and fines, and can approve gaming ordinances.  The chair additionally directs NIGC staff and decides the direction of the agency.

Some chairmen have focused on many non-tribal issues. “The commission has at times been seen as the aggressor under several of its chairmen, more tuned to the interests of states and the non-tribal gaming industry,” Pitchlynn explained.

The NIGC oversees some 512 tribal gaming venues operating in 29 states. There are 114 full-time employees who work out of seven regional NIGC offices.

The commission’s budget was about $25 million in the 2019 fiscal year.  Its operations are funded through fees paid by tribal gaming operations.

Challenges Ahead for NIGC

The NIGC has got some key challenges under its new chairman. Gary Pitchlynn predicts a major one will be working with tribes that want new compacts that may include sports wagering and online gaming.

“Sports betting and online gambling is a big issue throughout Indian Country, and the NIGC may want to take a position on it,” Dilweg agreed.

There are also occasional cases of alleged wrongdoing that need to be adjudicated. In May, the NIGC notified the St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin the tribe is facing $5.5 million in fines after a detailed review into alleged improper spending of casino revenue.

The proposed penalties were spelled out in an NIGC letter from prior chairman Jonodev Osceola Chaudhuri. He provided a stern rebuke that tribal leaders and others took $1.5 million “to line their own pockets.”

Last month, Chaudhuri began his new job as chair of the Indian Law and Policy Group at Quarles & Brady, a law firm based in Washington, DC.  He is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Trump decided not to nominate NIGC Vice Chair Kathryn Isom-Clause as a permanent chair. She was interim chair after Chaudhuri’s departure.