Being pretty well occupied at the Stop Predatory Gambling Conference all weekend, I didn't get the chance to see this fascinating read 'till just now.
But I can tell you that the conference offered two terrific speakers discussing the abuses caused by IGRA - which John McCain helped write.
Despite 20 years in which to witness the debacle which is the outcome of the Indian Gaming Act (...which he helped write...) and which has allowed mega gambling casinos to proliferate in residential communites, next to homes, schools and places of worship, and 20 years in which to act - we're all still waiting for Senator McCain to step up and fix it. Or better yet, throw it out and start over.
IGRA was so badly written that it negates states rights and requires arduous amounts of litigation for even the smallest local gains. (And by 'gains' I refer to maintaining current quality of life.) Meanwhile, wealthy casino interests are free to line pockets and influence people through contributions, lobbying and the well-funded rebranding of gambling - to the point where using casinos to fund budget shortfalls has started to sound downright acceptable to many - from John Q. Public to the elected official under mandated pressure to balance a budget.
Oh the wonder of it all.
Meanwhile, Senator Obama, has spoken against gambling and has accepted less gambling contributions than McCain, but apparently... has been adopted by Native Americans.
Obama told those gathered that he intended to acknowledge the "tragic history" of Native Americans over the past three centuries. They "never asked for much, only what was promised by the treaty obligations of their forebears," he said, promising to honor those treaties.
This is enough to make anyone living with the threat (or actuality) of an Indian casino in their community nervous. We are called racists at every turn in efforts to discredit our valid arguments. We still read 'fact filled' articles which claim the Mashpee Wampanoags met the Pilgrims. And we are accutely aware that "what was promised by the treaty obligations of the forebears" has somehow, in the 20th and 21st centuries been translated as unbridled casino development.
Native Americans rightly deserve and have a lot of sympathy across this country for abuses in the past - but turning our country into Gambling Nation is like trying to turn two wrongs into a right.
Meanwhile... in the conservative corner, we have Governor Palin touting her husband's Native Alaskan heritage, while still receiving criticism from constiuents for not doing enough for them. What's that going mean for Native Americans or IGRA reform if she were ever called in to carry on?
And... in the liberal corner, we find that Joe Biden's son Hunter once worked for the On-Line gambling industry - one of the most predatory and unregulated forms of gambling in existence today - though he a.) is not his dad and b.) has since quit. But why? Did Dad ask him to because he knows it's wrong - or a bad political move. I'd love to know.
In the end, I guess we all want to know which candidate will do the most for us personally, our nation as a whole, and the causes we want to see get the attention we feel they deserve.
Forget the earmarks and the pork and the international community for a moment. Which candidate will take a pass on all that gambling money? Who's really going to come out for the little guy?
In real life, things are much more complicated.
The truth also is that not all Native Americans favor Indian gaming or casinos. Just like other Americans. Many Native Americans and even Mashpee Wampaonag tribal members oppose casinos. Many tribal members across this country believe they can do better for their nations than building an econonmy based on gambling. And many Native American tribal members still live in poverty even with a Tribal casino. Where is their voice? Well, I suspect it's right up there on the importance list with mine.
Because those same excessive gambling profits which have the uncanny power to sway elected officials - well they do the same for Tribal leadership.
Indian gaming accounts for a third of the gambling revenue in this country. And that's a lot of influence. In fact, at least one tribe is so wealthy, that they've become the not-necessarily-indian off-reservation casino-investors who once gave them a foot up into the industry.
I have read McCain's testimony at 2006 hearings on off-reservation gamging and witnessed recent changes in regulations which make it more difficult to engage in Indian Casino development.
But not surprisingly, since he is not involved in Indian Gaming regulation or legislation, I haven't heard anything from Obama regarding IGRA.
Though, according to a January 2008 story in the LA Times,
"Barak Obama has warned about the dangers of gambling – that it carries a “moral and social cost” that could “devastate” poor communities. As a state senator in Illinois, he at times opposed plans to expand gambling, worrying that it could be especially harmful to low-income people."
But does this mean he's OK with letting casinos rise out of cornfields, swamps, and forests in and around the neighborhoods that form the not-quite-as-poor-but-definitely-not-affluent communities across America? Sort of more on the lines of our own Governor Patrick, willing to sacrifice the some for the good of the plenty?
We do know that McCain is an active gambler with much involvement in the issue but with a poor history regulating it, while Obama, a pastime poker player with no history with IGRA, and perhaps no interest in understanding it, is an unknown. If elected, will Indian casinos continue to march profligately across this country and into our neighborhoods for another 20 years due to sympathy and neglect?
Which candidate will finally bring an end reservation shopping? And which one of them will stop casino investors from having their way with the place I call home?
One does sound better than the other, but could neglect the issue allowing it to exacerbate. The other isn't my kind of guy, but at least he shows some interest in 'reform'. Heck, as far as I can tell, it's a crap shoot.
Because who really knows who'll do the most to reform IGRA?
I sure don't.
But I'd really like to. A lot of Americans would love to hear the candidates discuss this issue. And I suspect they would also love to witness a declaration of, or better yet, an era of... wait for it... real change.
But (excuse the pun) I won't bet on it any time soon.