Piscataways Roll the Dice


What the Mashantucket Pequot Indian tribe has accomplished in Connecticut is the reason some members of the Piscataway Conoy Confederacy of Southern Maryland are eagerly planning to open a huge gambling casino and resort complex in Charles or Prince George's counties.

The tiny Connecticut tribe -- with only 260 members -- opened a gambling emporium last year. Now it is the biggest casino complex in the country, and the tribe is earning a profit of well over $1 million each and every day.

This astounding tale of sudden wealth has other tribes seeking to duplicate the Mashantucket Pequots' success. America is gambling crazy in the '90s. If riverboat casino gambling is all the rage along the Mississippi, why not casinos on Indian reservations? So far, close to 90 gaming operations in 18 states have been opened by various tribes. It is a no-holds-barred type of operation.

Federal courts have ruled that Indians can offer any form of gambling on their land if the state government permits similar forms of gaming off the reservation. Compounding the problem, Congress passed an Indian gaming law in 1988 that makes it exceedingly difficult for state officials to stop tribes from opening casinos or other gambling ventures. Further worsening the situation, the state has virtually no power to police or regulate Indian gambling; its taxing power is limited, too.

Using these loopholes, Indian tribes have moved aggressively into gambling. That's what the Piscataway want to do. This is a tribe with a long history in Maryland extending back to the time before colonists first landed in Maryland. There are now 5,000 to 7,000 tribal members in Southern Maryland, though there is a dispute as to how many are represented by the group wanting to build a casino.

If the Piscataways' gamble succeeds, other Indian groups may follow suit, including the Lumbee Indians in Baltimore City. All they need do is be recognized officially by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, purchase land to serve as a "reservation" and prepare their plans for a casino. The state may object, but Congress has tied the state's hands.

This is a dangerous situation that could easily spin out of control. The potential for questionable or corrupt activities is large. Members of Maryland's delegation in Congress have an obligation to tighten the existing law on Indian gambling -- before it is too late.

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