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Department of Interior Leadership Change Comes at a Critical Time

15 March 2006

On Friday, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton submitted her resignation to President Bush after serving for five years. Ms. Norton is resigning at the end of this month. Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett will assume leadership of the Department until President Bush appoints a successor. On Monday of this week, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card suggested that the President is likely to appoint another pro-industry Westerner to replace her.

From a gaming industry perspective, Ms. Norton's resignation comes at an interesting time. Senator John McCain has been leading Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearings on issues related to the lobbying scandal involving Jack Abramoff. McCain has also been aggressively seeking amendments to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act ("IGRA") to assure Indian casinos' compliance with certain internal control standards and to further limit off-reservation gaming expansion.

Although Ms. Norton has not personally been implicated in the Abramoff scandal, certain other officials of the Department of Interior have come under scrutiny.

The Secretary of Interior has much much broader responsibilities than just Indian gaming related issues. Understandably, in the coming months, the major focus of the media will be on various environmental issues, given the Administration's initiative in recent years, to open up federal lands to more logging, oil and gas drilling, and commercial recreation. Another media focus may be on the gender of any proposed replacement for Ms. Norton. She was the first female to serve as the Secretary of Interior – a point that will not be lost on the media. However, hopefully a key consideration in any nomination that the President makes will be the ability of the person nominated to work with Indian Nations.

The Department of Interior is responsible for honoring the trust responsibilities of the United States government to the Indian tribes. Within the Department, the Bureau of Indian Affairs administers and manages the 55.7 million acres of land held in trust for the tribes. There are over 400 tribal casinos now in the United States built on such land that are generating over $18.5 billion dollars in revenue. With the ongoing efforts in Congress to limit the further expansion of Indian gaming, the Department of Interior will desperately need someone capable of balancing the trust responsibilities of the government to the Indian tribes with any newly created limitations imposed by Congress.

Hopefully, President Bush and his team will look for someone with experience and understanding of these complicated issues.

David Waddell
David Waddell is an attorney for Regulatory Management Counselors, P.C. (RMC), which assists businesses in navigating the legislative, regulatory and licensing systems governing Michigan’s commercial and tribal casino industries. He is the co-author of The State of Michigan Gaming Law Legal Resource Book and one of the founders of The Michigan Gaming Newsletter.

David Waddell Websites:

www.michigangaming.com
David Waddell
David Waddell is an attorney for Regulatory Management Counselors, P.C. (RMC), which assists businesses in navigating the legislative, regulatory and licensing systems governing Michigan’s commercial and tribal casino industries. He is the co-author of The State of Michigan Gaming Law Legal Resource Book and one of the founders of The Michigan Gaming Newsletter.

David Waddell Websites:

www.michigangaming.com