ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Native American tribes have emerged as key players in the legislative debates over whether states should legalize sports betting, with some opposing the idea because it could threaten their casinos and others supporting legalization but only if they retain a monopoly.
In many states, tribes are fighting sports betting or taking a go-slow approach because they worry it might force them to reopen decades-old agreements that give them exclusive rights to operate casinos and offer certain forms of gambling.
“The tribes have a major-league seat at the table,'' said Bill Pascrell III, a lobbyist for gambling interests that are seeking legalized sports betting across the country.
Six states have joined Nevada in allowing sports gambling since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year opened the door to its expansion. Legalization is being considered in more than 20 others.
In Minnesota, a bill seeking to legalize sports betting cleared its first hurdle earlier this year, passing a committee in the state Senate. But that's likely to be as far as it goes, in large part because the state's politically potent tribes oppose it.
Gambling “is the only successful economic development tool the tribes have ever had,'' John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, told the committee.
The tribes, which operate 21 casinos and have given millions in campaign donations, are especially concerned about allowing sports betting on mobile devices, which they fear could invite wider internet gambling that could threaten their casinos.
In Texas, the only sports betting bill is almost certain to die. It was introduced by a Democrat, the minority party, in a state where casino operators from neighboring Oklahoma and Louisiana have donated millions to keep gambling out. Two Oklahoma tribes, the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, have given more than $5 million to Texas officeholders and candidates since 2006.
Sports betting measures introduced in Arizona and Washington state are also considered longshots, mostly because of tribal ambivalence or opposition.
In some states where tribal gambling is prevalent, sports betting bills have not been introduced at all. That's the case in Oklahoma, as well as California and Florida, which are home to politically influential tribes that have been cool to the idea.
But elsewhere, casino-operating tribes are the ones leading the legalization efforts.
The Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes have exclusive rights to casino gambling in Connecticut and are working with the governor's office to add sportsbooks. Two tribal casinos in New Mexico began running sportsbooks after the Supreme Court decision, even though the tribes never received explicit permission from the state.
In North Carolina, a bill pushed by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians would allow the tribe to offer betting on sports and horse races at its casino near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, without forcing it to make any substantial concessions.
Conservative religious groups have warned about the dangers of more gambling, but the legislation has so far sailed through committees in the state Senate. The tribe is one of the state's top political contributors.
The bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Jim Davis, lauded the tribe for bringing jobs to an otherwise distressed portion of western North Carolina.
“They've been incredibly good stewards of the revenue, and it's transforming that community,'' he said.
Like other powerful interest groups, tribes ensure they have access to lawmakers and governors through political contributions. Tribal governments have contributed more than $114 million to state-level candidates and political committees over the past decade, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the National Institute on Money in Politics.
In some states, including California, allowing sports betting would probably require a constitutional amendment. That and tribal reluctance means the NBA's Sacramento Kings will have to wait longer, perhaps indefinitely, to allow gambling in a suite the team dedicated for that purpose inside the Golden 1 Center arena.
Arizona is the rare example of a state where tribes are the key players in the legalization debate but are on opposite sides.
The Navajo Nation is pushing for a measure that would give tribes the exclusive right to operate sports betting off their reservations in exchange for sharing winnings with the state. Tribes could put betting kiosks in non-tribal bars and private clubs.
But other Arizona tribes oppose the legislation, saying it could hurt existing casinos on reservations.
Lawmakers in many states are not eager to push the issue without support from tribes, said Hilary Tompkins, a former solicitor with the Department of the Interior, which oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“It's not worth the pain of engaging in a fight with the tribes in their states,'' Tompkins said. If states “open the door to non-tribal sports betting, the tribes are going to say, ‘We're going to reduce our revenue to you.' And that could end up in court.''
Minnesota state Sen. Roger Chamberlain, chairman of the tax committee that passed this year's sports betting bill, acknowledged that it will be virtually impossible for the measure to succeed without backing from the tribes.
“They've got momentum and are telling folks they don't want it to go anywhere,'' he said. “I think that's a little unfair, but we're willing to talk with them and protect their interests.''
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Northern New Mexico is known for tourist attractions such as artsy Santa Fe, eclectic Taos and the healing dirt of El Santuario de Chimayo. The region's relaxing spas and skiing options present middle-class and wealthy visitors the opportunity to bask in the allurement of quiet and breathtaking landscapes.
But seldom do these tourists stop in the drive-by towns and villages where largely Hispanic and Native American residents make their home. And there sits another side of northern New Mexico.
A new documentary, set to air on the PBS Independent Lens series this week, explores the world of rural health care amid poverty and a persistent opioid crisis by focusing on these northern New Mexico communities.
“The Providers'' looks at the challenges three health care workers in rural New Mexico face as they give services to aging patients and those struggling with addiction to alcohol and opioids.
Through the eyes of physician assistant Matt Probst, family physician Dr. Leslie Hayes and nurse practitioner Chris Ruge, the film shows how the health care providers from El Centro Family Health Center refuse to pass judgment on their patients who are just trying to get to the next day. El Centro is a group of clinics in northern New Mexico that helps people in a region four times as large as Connecticut.
They meet pregnant mothers on heroin, patients' whose liver and stomachs have been destroyed by alcohol and aging residents begging for a just a little more dosages of painkillers. Staff shortages make the work overwhelming, so does the worry over funding home visits.
Meanwhile, the young are moving away and high-paying jobs are rare. And now the clinics are seeing a third generation of residents addicted to opioids.
“There is so much beauty here,'' Probst, who leads El Centro, says in the film. “And there is so much pain.''
Probst should know. His father struggled with his own addiction to heroin and his sister with methamphetamine. A 12-year-old Probst once sold cocaine to help his mom pay the mortgage.
Now, Probst leads dedicated staff members who travel into people's homes and urge them to come in for routine checkups using tough love but no condemnation.
Filmmakers Laura Green and Anna Moot-Levin, both children of health care providers, said they captured around 350 hours of footage.
“It was important not to create a project of hopelessness,'' Green said. That's why she and Moot-Levin filmed hours of the three providers interacting with patients and reassuring them they controlled their fate, Green said.
Moot-Levin said the pair spent six months looking for the right location to show the challenges of rural health care. They knew immediately northern New Mexico was the spot after learning about Probst and El Centro.
“We found tremendous hope in the relationships, even in bleak circumstances,'' Moot-Levin said.
That's what the pair sought when filming Ruge meeting with a patient named George. The man's wife killed herself and now he was working to overcome alcoholism. After one visit, George told Ruge he had relapsed.
“Are you mad at me?'' George asked.
“No, I'm not mad at you. I'll never get mad at you,'' Ruge said after taking away a bottle. “My job is to try to keep you alive.''
The film is scheduled to begin airing online and on most PBS stations on Monday.
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Gambling operations run by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in western North Carolina could soon let patrons bet on pro and college sporting events and off-track horse racing should legislation clearing a state Senate committee becomes law.
The Senate Commerce Committee voted on Wednesday for the measure, which now heads to another Senate panel.
The Eastern Band is seeking the new options following a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year striking down a federal law that made most sports gambling illegal. Current law already lets the tribe offer live poker, slot machines and video-style games on tribal lands. The additional gambling could bring another $1 million annually to state government.
The measure cleared the committee despite opposition from conservative Christian groups against the expansion of any gambling.