Uncertainty Surrounds Federal Agency Regulating Indian Gaming

August 22, 2023
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Functioning with a chairman whose term already has expired and a vacancy in one of its two other leadership positions, the National Indian Gaming Commission needs changes that may not occur until after the 2024 presidential election.

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Functioning with a chairman whose term already has expired and a vacancy in one of its two other leadership positions, the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) needs changes that may not occur until after the 2024 presidential election.

Unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate to a three-year term in November 2019, Sequoyah Simermeyer still leads the NIGC but sources say he is anxious to leave and pursue new opportunities.

“The chairman has reached the end of his term but may continue to serve until his successor has been appointed,” Mavis Harris, a communications specialist for the NIGC, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance in an email on Monday (August 21).

Meanwhile, the three-year term of NIGC vice chair Jeannie Hovland is set to expire in January but she also can stay until she is replaced.

Simemeyer is a member of the Coharie Tribe of North Carolina and Hovland’s tribe is the Santee Dakota Sioux of Nebraska.

A third NIGC leadership position for a commissioner has remained vacant since July 2021 when Hovland’s predecessor as vice chair, Kathryn Isom-Clause, joined the U.S. Department of the Interior as deputy assistant secretary for Indian affairs.

“It’s a little bit of a concern among some tribes that [the NIGC] isn’t a bigger priority for the administration [of President Biden],” said a tribal gaming executive who requested anonymity.

“Maybe they’re doing something behind the scenes. It just seems to me we had a much easier time during the Obama administration.”

With Biden facing a challenging re-election campaign during the next 15 months, it is probably fair to say the NIGC is likely to remain the same until the president begins a new term in 2025 or a new president replaces him.

Created by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988, the NIGC is the only federal agency focused entirely on the regulation of gambling.

But the NIGC’s direct regulatory authority is limited to ceremonial games, bingo and non-banked card games.

The NIGC does not regulate casino gaming operated by tribes, which is governed by compacts negotiated between tribes and states. It does, however, review and approve management contracts for tribal casino and sportsbook operations, undertake enforcement actions and provide guidance on tribal gaming conducted under IGRA.

Although an independent federal agency, the NIGC is within the U.S. Department of the Interior and also works with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Simermeyer led the NIGC through the COVID-19 crisis of 2020, which saw tribal gaming revenue plummet by almost 20 percent to $27.8bn.

Last month, Simermeyer reported that Indian gaming produced $40.9bn in gross revenue in 2022.

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