Donald Trump came to Congress Tuesday to protest the controversial growth of gambling on Indian reservations, but the casino tycoon and 1980s rich-folk hero only added to the controversy.
Saying he had a list of organized crime figures who had tried to infiltrate gambling facilities run by Native Americans, Trump said: "It's obvious that organized crime is rampant on the Indian reservations. . . . This thing is going to blow sky high. It will be the biggest scandal since Al Capone, and it will destroy the gambling industry."
Members of the House subcommittee on Native American affairs were aghast that Trump, who owns three casinos in Atlantic City, N.J., made those allegations without presenting any evidence.
"In my 19 years in Congress, I don't know if I've ever heard more irresponsible testimony," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. "To come here and say that you have this knowledge about organized crime -- you don't know this; you suspect this."
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Trump's testimony was part of an ongoing debate in Congress over whether, and how, to control the growth of casinos on Indian reservations. New York recently got its first such facility, Turning Stone Casino, on Oneida Indian land in Verona near Syracuse. Members of the Seneca Nation have discussed opening a casino in Western New York.
The Oneidas' casino resulted from loopholes in current law governing casinos on Indian land, Trump said. Because that law says Native Americans must be allowed to operate the same kind of games that charities can run at "casino nights," Gov. Cuomo and other governors have been forced to agree to Indian gambling against their better judgment, he said.
More often, though, Trump made comments that outraged House members at the hearing. For example, he said that Indian nations are sovereign "only in that they don't pay taxes."
Stating that the Pequots, who operate a lucrative casino in Ledyard, Conn., "don't look like Indians to me," Trump said: "Do the few hundred members of the tribe deserve to make all the money they're making?"
"Probably as much as the 200 to 300 people in New York who made money on leveraged buyouts deserved to make that money," shot back Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, a Buffalo native.
While Trump stole the show, other witnesses acknowledged that further regulations are needed to prevent trouble at Native American gaming establishments.
Jim Moody, who heads the FBI unit in charge of investigating organized crime, said he saw no evidence that the mob had already infiltrated tribal gambling operations -- but would if it could.
And David B. Palmer, deputy assistant commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, said Native American gaming operations don't have to report large cash transactions, making them prone to money-laundering.
Rep. Robert Toricelli, D-N.J., said those facts argue for the enactment of a bill he has proposed to prevent Indian nations from opening casinos in states where private businesses aren't allowed to open gambling establishments.
But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., stressed that the courts have given Native Americans the right to open casinos on their land since their nations are sovereign.
"I don't like Indian gambling, but the fact is, it's providing some much-needed revenue and opportunity to people whom we all think deserve it," McCain added.