Limiting Gaming Commission’s Power – Saving Money or Opening a Door to Corruption?

Tribal Council Speaker Tina Glory Jordan speaks with Tribal Councilor David Thornton before the April 14 council meeting at the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Okla. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Tribal Council Speaker Tina Glory Jordan speaks with Tribal Councilor David Thornton before the April 14 council meeting at the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Okla. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX


On April 14, 2014 the Tribal Council amended a law to limit the Gaming Commission’s power over the gaming operations of Cherokee Nation Businesses.  The new law would lower regulations to a bare minimum as required by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC).

Under the new law, nongaming operations such as beverages, food, hotel, gift shops  and entertainment would be regulated not by the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission, but by Cherokee Nation Businesses.  Gaming operations  would remain regulated by the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission.

Two areas of controversy arose over the course of passing this new law.  One is the merits of the new law itself.  One faction of the council, the “majority block,” stated that it will save the Cherokee Nation money, anywhere from 3- 5 million dollars a year, and that 90% of all tribes use this standard.  The “minority block” said the Cherokee Nation needs to keep its  high standards and that many  tribes that do not are experiencing corruption and cronyism.

The other controversy is the manner in which the act itself was passed.  Councilors in the minority faction says that many of them did not received information about the new law until the day of its debate and that the Gaming Commission itself knew nothing about the new law.  These councilors asked that the vote be tabled for another month for discussion and input from the Gaming Commission.  The majority block denied their request.

Two Phoenix articles give an overview of this issue and newsletters by tribal councilors Cara Cowen Watts and Julia Coates offer dissenting opinions (in the sidebar), but nothing quite shows the workings of the tribal council like the video of the actual council meeting itself.

The section of the tribal council meeting dealing with the new Gaming Commission law runs about 25 minutes.  Here are the highlights:

  • 55:30  Discussion of new gaming law begins.
  • 57:00  Councilor Keener says they need more time to discuss the law and requests they send it back to the rules committee.  The majority block votes against his motion.
  • 1:00:00  Councilor Coates makes a motion they table the vote for a month because the Chair of Gaming Commission wanted input and requested a delay.  The majority block votes against the motion.
  • 1:02:00  Discussion Starts.  Councilor Cara Cowen Watts warns of the problems that the lack of regulations could create. She says she was not given the proper information in time to consider it.
  • 1:04:15  Councilor Keener states that they don’t know the repercussions and costs of the new law and there is nothing pressing them to pass it now.
  • 1:05:30  Councilor Walkingstick says the costs of the old law are high and 90% of tribes use the minimum standards.  He says he had plenty of time to study the proposed law.  Councilor Jack Baker refutes this and says he and others got the information on the day of the rules committee meeting.
  • 1:08:00  Councilor Thornton says the costs of the old regulations is too high and it is the council’s job to watch over funding.
  • 1:10:00   Councilor Coates states the good principles of government demands the separation of politicians and money sources and says she is confounded why the council will not allow input from the Gaming Commission.
  • 1:12:00  Councilor Fishinghawk reads a statement from a NIGC bulletin and says regulating non-gaming operations lessens economic benefits.
  • 1:14:15  Councilor Fullbright says overregulating costs a lot of money.
  • 1:16:00  Councilor Tina Glory Jordan says we’re losing a competitive advantage because we spend too much money on regulation.
  • 1:18:00  The council passes the new gaming regulation by a vote of 9 to 7.

It is very clear from this video, the council is strongly split between the majority block and the minority block.  What appears to be puzzling is how each side disagrees over basic facts.  Some in the minority block state they did not receive information until the day of the law’s debate while others in the majority block, some apparently working on the law, mulled the act over for three or four months. Some in the majority accuse the other side of having had plenty of time to look it over.

For some people, the most important question of this issue is why the council would push to pass this law so quickly without discussion and without input from the Gaming Commission.

From reading the two articles and newsletters one can only see the wide divide between the council factions on this issue.  Councilors in the minority block see the nation’s standards as being lowered and worry that it will lead down a “slippery slope.”  Those in the majority almost all agree that the cost of overregulation is too high and the money could be spent elsewhere.

Since the council meeting, Chief Baker has signed this amended legislation into law.

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