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Choctaws Fight Indian Gaming Bill

A Specter spokesman said that the Senator does not have a hold on the bill and did not respond to inquiries about the Lytton project by deadline.

“In the process of alleviating some holds, it creates others. I think that’s what’s going on,” one tribal lobbyist said.

In a brief interview Wednesday, McCain indicated that with time winding down on the Senate calendar and most lawmakers turning their attention to the November elections, the measure’s prospects for this year are fading fast.

“We haven’t got much time,” he said. “We keep working it, trying to do what we can, but there’s numerous holds on the bill.”

Though exact numbers are unavailable because holds are placed anonymously, several Senators appear to be joining Cochran’s attempt to block the bill for cracking down too hard on Indian tribes.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) placed a hold on the bill because, he said, “most of the tribes in my state have raised concerns about it, thinking it’s too broad in its language.”

Likewise, Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) said he has objected to the bill because tribes in his state fear it will subject them to onerous and unnecessary new regulations.

“I have a lot of respect for Sen. McCain, but to the best of my knowledge, there’s not a problem that needs fixing in Minnesota,” said Dayton, adding that seven of his state’s eight Indian tribes run successful gambling operations. “I just want to make sure if they’re going to fix a problem that exists elsewhere in the country, it doesn’t put another layer of regulation, reporting requirements, and cause other difficulties for the Minnesota operations.”

Meanwhile, some Senators are complaining that the bill has too many loopholes. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said he placed a hold on the measure because it grandfathers in too many tribes currently shopping for land for new casinos. That move received a second from Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who is blocking the bill to make sure it will stop a Louisiana tribe from ranging around for a new casino site in his state.

Lobbyists for tribes that want to stop reservation shopping say they applaud some of the holds by Senators who want to strengthen the bill.

In particular, these tribes have focused on altering the so-called grandfather clause that, in its current form, would exempt tribes that put in new casino applications by March 30.

A coalition of tribes opposed to off-reservation gambling has been fighting for criteria such as a historic connection to the proposed land, and not just that cut-off date, to determine whether tribes would still be able to pursue taking new land into trust.

Markham Erickson, who represents that coalition, said his clients don’t support an arbitrary date.

“The whole reason for this bill was that a lot of applications that were already pending were generating a lot of controversy,” he said.

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