Internet gaming – lawful or not?

The Internet has changed lives in a number of meaningful ways. It has unleashed a great transformation that has allowed access to information and services through a swipe or a click. Over 85 percent of Americans use the Internet and there are over 900 million users of social media around the world on any given day.  As the Internet continues to fuel innovation for American consumers, Tribal governments are rightly pursuing all online opportunities as instruments for economic growth.

When Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) in 1988 Federal laws governing gaming on Tribal lands did not exist. The IGRA, for the first time, set the legislative basis for regulating Indian gaming nationally.  The law encouraged economic development on Tribal lands and established gaming as a means of generating revenue for Tribes. Now, nearly 30 years later Congressional leaders appear more determined than ever to turn the clock back decades and dramatically obstruct the rights and economic vitality of federally recognized Indian tribes.

ADVERTISEMENT
That’s exactly what legislation recently introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rep.Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) – S.2159 and H.R. 4301, respectively – aims to do. By prohibiting online gaming nationally, the legislation could severely compromise Tribal jurisdiction over Class II games like bingo and make any expansion of gaming by Tribes to include the Internet illegal. With many Indian reservations continuing to have some of the highest rates of poverty, unemployment, school dropout, and other social distresses of any communities in the country, this legislation forces Native Americans to accept the status quo. 

Why are lawmakers, who utilize the Internet on a daily basis, against online gaming? The Internet as a medium of communication, the main way many Americans communicate, conduct commerce, and live their daily lives, seems to be  the issue. The proposed legislation does not make the games played illegal; but rather, the view is that when games – like poker or bingo – are available via the Internet, the act of communication is illegal. The evils of gaming are trotted out as the motivation. By protecting the public from themselves the federal government will take away the wicked vice before it can take advantage of the weak mindless public.  These arguments have not worked well in other areas of society and in some cases increased the feared activities.

Thousands of Americans play games online now, some for a wager and some for entertainment. The fast paced trading of securities with no limits already takes place 24 hours a day, enabled by Internet access.  Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have legalized the Internet as a vehicle for the play of wagering games. The horse is out of the barn. Closing it now and punishing anyone that plays or offers gambling via the Internet is out of touch with reality.

Right or wrong, Americans live their lives on the Internet – making reservations, emailing, sharing photos, finding directions – there is no aspect of our lives that the internet does not touch. By doing all of this, Americans have expressed the view that what they do on the Internet should be their business, not that of a senator, congressman or any other special interest in Washington.

Congress should be in the business of enforcing laws, not taking away states’ rights and the rights of sovereign Indian Tribes. Yet, this is precisely what S.2159 and H.R. 4301 will do if they become law.  As the Internet gambling debate continues to unfold, I hope federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will actively work together with Tribal governments to protect tribal sovereignty and abide by federal regulations and guidelines already encompassed in federal law.

Valandra is the CEO of Great Luck LLC, one of the nation’s leading interactive gaming (i-Gaming) companies working in Indian Country.