Indian casinos warned

The Bush administration told Congress Wednesday that Indian tribes face long odds in winning federal approval for casinos hundreds of miles away from their reservations.

Along with 10 other tribes, The Mississippi Band of Choctaws received a letter from the Bureau of Indian Affairs in January rejecting the application for a casino in Jackson County, almost 200 miles from the tribe’s reservation in Neshoba County. The basis for the denial was that a far-flung casino could diminish the population actually living on the reservation. An additional 11 tribes received letters saying their off-reservation gaming applications were insufficient and would not be considered.

A four-page letter dated Jan. 4 was sent to Choctaw Chief Beasley Denson by Carl J. Artman, the assistant secretary for Indian affairs. He said the tribe’s application failed to show the casino was necessary for the tribe’s self-determination, economic development or Indian housing. Jackson County is 175 miles from the tribe’s primary reservation in Neshoba County, where the tribe already operates two casinos, and Artman said the distance might encourage those who live on the reservation to move for job opportunities.

The Choctaw application was filed in November 2005 for 61 acres along Mississippi 57, adjacent to about 40 acres where the tribe operates a printing plant and plastics business.

Assistant Secretary Carl Artman testified at Wednesday’s hearing that the Bureau of Indian Affairs „is used to dealing with requests for land 20, 30 or 50 miles away from a tribe’s reservation. The BIA is not accustomed to assessing applications for land 100, 200, or 1,500 miles away from a tribe’s reservation.“ He did not define how far is too far for an off-reservation casino

Angered tribal leaders told the House Resources Committee the government is trying to force Indians to stay on reservations with high unemployment and few opportunities.

The policy could change next year under a new administration. The committee chairman, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., called the implications of the decision „disturbing,“ and suggested the administration may be advocating a policy „to keep Indians on the reservation.“

Indian gambling is a huge business, pulling in USD 25 billion in 2006, an annual increase of 11 percent, according to federal figures. Indian gambling revenue has nearly doubled in five years.