By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
WASHINGTON — Federal housing, healthcare and education dollars that would flow into Eastern North Carolina to benefit members of the Lumbee tribe are not worth the risks of bringing more casino gambling to the Tar Heel state.
That may be the long-term result if lawmakers give the Lumbees full federal recognition and benefits via a law now being considered. The Lumbee Recognition Act, passed by the U.S. House in June as H.R. 31 and now before the Senate, would, according to U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), provide the group with “complete recognition and make the tribe eligible for all federal benefits and programs.”
Though the bill includes a line prohibiting “gaming activities as a matter of claimed inherent authority or under the authority of any Federal law, including the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act …,” it is hard to imagine that the granting of full tribal rights would not set the stage for an amendment or legal action to open the door to casinos.
“We understand there are passionate arguments on both sides of this legislation regarding the Lumbee people, their heritage and whether this group — recognized nationally since 1956 but never granted federal benefits — is truly of Native American descent,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Our concern is that attempts to validate this group as a tribe will ultimately have broad and unintentional negative effects — via gambling — on all of North Carolina.”
A press release from Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), who joined Burr to introduce the bill, explains the 1956 Lumbee Act prevents the Lumbees from applying for federal acknowledgement through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and assures that the “40,000 members of the Lumbee Tribe” are “not seeking gaming privileges.”
However, at one time, the same could be said of virtually any Native American tribe; and today, according to the National Indian Gaming Commission, some 220 out of 562 federally recognized tribes operate a roughly 400 casinos. Should the Lumbee Act be amended, during this Congressional session or in future years, to allow the Lumbee’s gaming rights, there is little North Carolina lawmakers could do to prevent a casino’s opening.
In fact, the North Carolina Family Policy Council (NCFPC), which submitted a letter to Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC) asking The Lumbee Recognition Act be amended to avoid expanded Indian gaming, took a look at the issue in a 2004 policy paper and determined that the prospect of casino gambling along the I-95 corridor is “cause for serious concern.”
According to N.C. Department of Transportation statistics for Robeson County, an average of about 39,000 automobiles travel the area each day on I-95, which would put a casino in position to lure not only local citizens but out-of-state motorists. While the area doesn’t have widespread gambling addiction problems now, studies show that would change with a casino as would local crime rates, which tend to rise three to four years after the establishments open, when compulsive gamblers have depleted their resources and turn to criminal activities to survive or support their habit.
Beyond the social impact of broken families and rising crime, the NCFPC policy paper also warns that a casino in Eastern North Carolina would draw cash into its immediate area by “cannibalizing commerce and tourism in other parts of the state,” especially the coastal communities. And once dollars are committed to gambling, they produce no tangible asset, unlike money spent on consumer goods that can help manufacturers, create jobs, etc.
“Bringing in a casino is really not just taking a risk that something bad might happen. Study after study shows what does happen,” said the Rev. Creech. “That’s why we shouldn’t even start down this road. It’s always much easier to preserve ground than it is to reclaim it.”
While the caveat currently in the Lumbee Recognition Bill would keep the tribe from immediately demanding a gambling compact, it is no guarantee that the group could not successfully sue for the privilege. Federal courts and the Supreme Court have consistently ruled that Indian tribes are sovereign nations which are not under the jurisdiction of the state in which they are located. And once granted rights under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Lumbee could demand approval of the same types of gambling already being offered by the Eastern Band of Cherokee, games which Gov. Bev Perdue has already indicated she would be open to expanding.
“When it comes to gambling, there is a constant push to allow it where it hasn’t been allowed before and to expand it where it is already allowed,” said the Rev. Creech. “We need to be proactive to fight legislation that would set the stage for more gambling and I’m convinced that is what this bill would do.”
For more on this issue, see the North Carolina Family Policy Council’s policy paper “Lumbee Casino Gambling: Would Another Casino Be Good for North Carolina?”