On Wednesday night the House voted, 212 to 206, to pass a giant spending bill that would keep parts of the government running for the next several months. But it turns out the measure, passed with no Republican votes, does more than that. A little-noticed provision inside the bill, pushed hard by Democrats, could also lead to a massive expansion in the number of casinos run by Indian tribes.
The measure would give the Secretary of the Interior the authority to quickly, and without approval from anyone else, take lands into trust for new tribes. What that means is this: A group of people with some native American background petitions the Secretary for recognition as an Indian tribe. That is approved. The new tribe owns a parcel of land and offers the land to the Interior Department for the purpose of the U.S. government taking title to the property — taking it into trust — and then allowing the tribe to use the land for its own purposes. That way, the new tribe doesn’t have to pay taxes on the land and is also protected from legal actions against them. Then the new tribe, enjoying those benefits of federal land ownership and not having to answer to any state or local authorities, opens a casino.