WASHINGTON – The leader of an Oregon tribe that runs a profitable casino asked Congress on Wednesday to block other Indian tribes from setting up casinos outside their reservations.
Cheryle Kennedy, chairwoman of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, said plans by two neighboring tribes to open off-reservation casinos near Portland, Ore., could have a "devastating" effect on her tribe, which operates the state's largest and most profitable casino.
The leader of a tribe that runs a profitable casino in Southern California, meanwhile, denounced what he called "reservation shopping" by a host of Indian tribes seeking to build casinos outside their federally established homelands.
Those well-publicized efforts — which include proposals for Las Vegas-style casinos near Portland, Denver and San Francisco Bay — have caused a "backlash against tribes by the general public," said Deron Marquez, chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, which runs a casino in San Bernardino County, about 65 miles east of Los Angeles.
The Grand Ronde operates Spirit Mountain Casino, about 60 miles southwest of Portland, on land the tribe has controlled since winning federal recognition 22 years ago.
Inspired in part by the tribe's success — Spirit Mountain is Oregon's most-visited tourist attraction — two nearby tribes are seeking to build casinos of their own.
The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs hope to build a casino, hotel and conference center in Cascade Locks, Ore., about 40 miles east of Portland, while the Cowlitz Indian Tribe seeks a casino and hotel near La Center, Wash., about 25 miles north of Portland.
Cowlitz Chairman John Barnett, seated next to Kennedy at a House hearing Wednesday, said he was disheartened by her comments.
"It is a sad day indeed when some established gaming tribes who make millions every year are using those profits to oppose legitimate efforts like ours, rather than using those funds ... to provide services and create economic opportunities for their communities," he told the House Resources Committee.
Barnett accused the Grand Ronde and other casino-rich tribes of spending millions "to oppose a tribe with nothing — all with the intent of depriving us of our sovereign right to economic development" under the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Warm Springs Chairman Ron Suppah said a draft bill being circulated by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., could effectively kill his tribe's chances of building a casino.
If enacted, the bill "would unfairly terminate our tribe's very costly and years-long effort to pursue vitally necessary financial self-sufficiency through a gaming facility on our aboriginal, treaty-reserved lands," Suppah said.
Pombo, who chairs the Resources committee, has not formally submitted his legislation, but has said he hopes to tighten restrictions on off-reservation gambling — particularly for plans that cross state lines — and give local communities more say in approval of casino projects.
Pombo hopes to submit a bill by January, but is being deliberate because of the complexity of the issue and concerns about Indian sovereignty, said spokesman Brian Kennedy.
"This affects different tribes in different states in different ways," Kennedy said.
Ernest Stevens, a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, said his group opposes Pombo's legislation. Instead, the association advocates a regulation under existing law that would clarify the role of state and local governments in consulting with the Interior Secretary on casino proposals by Indian tribes.