The Department of the Interior’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs announced Monday the publication of proposed revisions to regulations regarding Class III gaming compacts and fee-to-trust processes. “The updated regulations will provide clearer and more efficient processes for Tribes that are applying to place land into trust or enter into gaming compacts,” the Office said in a statement.
“The federal government has a treaty and trust responsibility to protect tribal sovereignty and revitalize Tribal communities by strengthening their homelands and economic self-sufficiency through a timely and efficient process for taking land into trust and providing clarity on Class III gaming compact negotiations,” said Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland.
The proposed rules reflect input and recommendations provided by Tribes during consultations held earlier this year, the DOI said. The Department noted it will conduct further Tribal consultation before the regulations are finalized. It is also accepting written comments from the public, which may be submitted by March 1, 2023.
The Indian gaming industry remains one of the most significant sources of Tribal economic development in India Country. The changes proposed to 25 C.F.R. Part 293, which governs the review and approval of tribal-state gaming compacts, would provide clarity on the criteria the Department would consider when deciding whether to approve these compacts.
The move would clarify boundaries as to allowable topics of negotiation, better define key terms, and clearly outline when the Department must review a gaming compact, the DOI explained. The proposed regulations were announced during the 2022 White House Tribal Nations Summit, held last week, which gathered Administration and Tribal leaders from the 574 federally recognized Tribes.
The Department will conduct two virtual and one in-person Tribal consultation sessions to obtain further input on the proposals. The consultation sessions will be open to Tribal leadership and representatives of federally recognized Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations.
While the proposed revision to regulations on fee-to-trust processes does not specifically tackle gambling, it does still affect Tribal gaming. Fee-to-trust land acquisitions, also called “land-into-trust,” transfer a land title to the federal government to be held in trust for the benefit of an individual or Tribe. Acquisition of land in trust is essential to Tribal self-determination and helps maximize the Tribe’s eligibility for federal services and programs.
By placing lands into trust status through the Department, Tribes can reacquire lands within or near their reservations, establish a land base for Tribal communities and clarify jurisdiction over their lands, including for the development of casinos. Tribes have faced delays and increasing costs in efforts to develop local economies as a result of unnecessary hurdles in the land-into-trust process, notes the DOI.
“The changes being considered to 25 C.F.R. Part 151 would lead to a more efficient, less cumbersome, and less expensive fee-to-trust process by clarifying the Secretary of the Interior’s authority to take land in trust for Tribes, reducing processing time, and establishing clear decision-making criteria,” says the DOI.