Pow-wows in the casinos

October 04, 1993

You can't blame some members of the Piscataway Conoy Indians of Southern Maryland for trying to cash in on this country's gambling mania. After all, nearly 90 gaming operations in 18 states are run by Indian groups. And the payoff could be nothing short of astounding: the huge Foxwoods gambling complex in Ledyard, Conn., is raking in more than $1 million in profits every day.

The Piscataway group has a long way to go before it can turn a site in Southern Maryland into a casino. Yet loopholes in federal law and federal court rulings have led to a dangerous expansion of unpoliced gambling that threatens to get out of hand. The Piscataway effort is just one example of this worrisome trend.

Under a 1988 federal law, if the Piscataway group is recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a tribe, it could purchase land for a casino complex. State officials at that point might be powerless to stop the tribe, though a long legal battle could delay the eventual opening. That's because the law says that Indian tribes may offer any gambling activities on their land that the state permits elsewhere.

In Maryland, this means the sky is the limit. In one form or another, Maryland governments sanction tip jars, slot machines, bingo, electronic keno, blackjack, poker, baccarat, roulette, craps and parimutuel wagering, both on and off the tracks.

We hope all candidates for governor will strongly oppose this plan. One already has, Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening. The rest have waffled. They won't be able to send such a mixed message once the gubernatorial campaign gets under way.

It is not at all certain the deal struck by the chairwoman of the Piscataway confederation with a Rockville firm represents the will of the majority of tribe members, who number 5,000 to 7,000 and whose ancestors have lived here since before the first Europeans settled in Maryland. Billy "Redwing" Tayac, who hasn't taken part in the casino proposal, long has claimed he is the true chief of the Piscataway Nation. His son rightly noted that "many non-Indian people [are] . . . jumping on the Indian bandwagon trying to take advantage of situations economically."

But unless Congress closes the loopholes in its 1988 Indian gaming law, an unlicensed, unregulated Piscataway casino complex could someday open in Charles or Prince George's County. Once that happens, look for the Lumbee Indians living in Baltimore City to seek a full-scale casino in the city. Clearly it is a law-enforcement nightmare, one that members of Maryland's congressional delegation should respond to with alarm.

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