Tribe seeks fair gaming from King

Published 2:53 am Wednesday, April 23, 2008

By By Buford L. Rolin
In football, a great defense may be a great offense, but in the case of Alabama’s Attorney General, trying to convince Alabama that he is defending the State by offending our intelligence will just not work.
For some time, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians has asked that it be allowed to operate the same kind of electronic bingo games that wealthy racetrack owners operate in other parts of the State. Unlike those racetrack owners, the Poarch Band actually asked for permission from the appropriate federal entities to operate the games instead of charging ahead and then expecting to be forgiven or ignored.
While we were awaiting a decision on our request, we continued to work hard to be good neighbors and contribute the greater good of our county and our state. Our gaming operation and the other businesses we own as a Tribe continued to employ hundreds of people. We paid millions of dollars in taxes, and were proud to be able to answer calls for our help through charitable donations totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Ultimately, the Bush Administration’s Department of the Interior, which oversees all Indian gaming operations, heard the Poarch Band’s requests. In a preliminary decision after all parties were provided the opportunity to comment, the federal government announced that the Tribe should be allowed to do what other businesses in Alabama were being allowed to do – operate the same electronic bingo games and pari-mutuel wagering.
This decision was significant for several reasons. It recognizes that the Tribe is still playing fairly. And it clearly calls King on his penchant for selectively applied justice. But now, instead of realizing the clock has run out on his game of hypocrisy, King is arguing the decision and trying to confuse the issue.
He is telling Alabamians the preliminary decision is expanding gaming in the state. In fact, the preliminary decision limits and defines what games can be played in the state by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians on their sovereign land. These games are the same games currently being played at competing facilities that our Attorney General Troy King has visited and approved for years. And those same wealthy businessman are currently trying to expand gaming to the metropolitan areas across the State. If King doesn’t define this as expanding gaming, what is it?
The Department of the Interior called it as they saw it. They saw through King’s attempt to choose the interests of wealthy racetrack owners over an Indian tribe that contributes millions of dollars to the state in taxes, creates hundreds of jobs, and makes significant charitable donations to the surrounding communities. The ruling recognizes that there are clear laws governing Indian gaming. And it also recognizes that, first and foremost, Congress voted to give federally recognized Tribes the right to have Indian gaming operations to promote economic development and self-sufficiency.
Nationwide, Indian gaming has done just that. In fact, Indian gaming has been described as “the only federal Indian economic initiative that ever worked.” Prior to being afforded that right, the Poarch Band, like so many other Indian nations, was legally recognized as a sovereign government within the United States. But we did not have the economic resources to provide basic governmental services to our people.
Today, the resources of our Indian gaming operations are used to provide health care, police and fire protection, scholarships, and many other services to our tribal members and our surrounding communities. We have also used those funds to start other tribal businesses such as a metal works operation, farming, and a timber business. All of these businesses provide jobs to our neighbors and increase the State’s tax base. It is impossible to calculate how many have moved from the unemployment rolls to being gainfully employed because of our gaming operations.
Like many Alabamians, we believe gaming in the State should be limited, regulated, and benefit all of its citizens. We have asked, for many years, to negotiate an agreement with the Governor that would limit gaming to our tribal facilities which are already well-regulated. In turn, we have offered to share our revenues with the State. But the Governor’s office has refused to even talk with us.
So, as Alabama struggles to deal with expanded gaming on racetracks, its top legal player, Troy King, is being recognized by the Bush Administration for the functional equivalent of illegal holding. Now King has made one last attempt to save face and a losing argument by suing the federal government. This lawsuit is a Hail Mary pass thrown after the game has been called. Someone should tell King that fair play has won and it is time for him to take his ball and go home.
Buford L. Rolin is Tribal Chairman for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

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