Federal Recognition Process & Atlantic City Gaming Interests

This clip introduces the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and the role of Atlantic City gaming interests in the federal recognition process for Native American communities.

Writing in 1995, Bruce Babbit, who served as the Secretary of the Interior from 1993-2001, pointed out in a letter to the Secretary of the United States Senate that:

“ It is a matter of public record that the proposed decision regarding the Ramapough was ‘leaked’ to supporters of Atlantic City gaming interests weeks before it was final, or even before it was presented to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. A decision regarding the Ramapough’s quest for recognition should be made independently of any concerns about gambling on Indian reservations or anywhere else.” - Bruce Babbit, Former Secretary of the Interior

Here we see that the “gaming interests” in Atlantic City were concerned about potential competition for their casinos after the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) created a structure for governing casinos run by federally recognized tribes. Donald Trump filed a federal lawsuit in 1993 that challenged the constitutionality of the law. In a congressional hearing in October 1993 he stated “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 gaming industry.” His suit alleged that IGRA encouraged unfair competition that threatened his casinos. The suit mostly targeted tribes in Connecticut, but also mentioned the Ramapough and their application for federal recognition (Fallon 2016).

Pages from the 1993 Oversight Hearing before the Subcommittee on Native American Affairs about IGRA.  https://turtletalk.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/1993-trump-nat-res-testimony-pdf.pdf


To support his assertions he spoke on a radio show hosted by Don Imus, and said on the air that the Ramapough and other tribes should not be called Native Americans, stating: “Well, I think I might have more Indian blood than a lot of the so-called Indians that are trying to open up the reservations” (“Donald Trump” 1993). Congressional representatives from New Jersey, Rep. Robert Torricelli (Democrat) and Rep. Marge Roukema (Republican), joined in opposition to the Rampough’s claims of Native heritage. Torricelli had originally supported the bid for federal recognition in the 1980s, but then suddenly changed his position, citing his concern that the Ramapough were driven by the motivation to set up a casino, and that this would lead to organized crime in the region (Fallon 2016). This pivot implies that his opposition to Ramapough recognition seems to have less to do with their authenticity and more to do with politics.

Donald Trump - 1993 - Testifying in front of The Native American Affairs Committee.  "They Don't look like Indians to me."

At the 1993 congressional hearing, Trump, supported by Torricelli and Roukema, reiterated that the Ramapough were only pretending:

“They don’t look like Indians to me, and they don’t look like Indians to Indians, and a lot of people are laughing at it” (LA Times 2016).

One month later, the BIA turned down the Ramapough’s application in a preliminary decision, and denied their second application again in 1996, despite Babbit’s appeal, along with other Members of Congress and the Native American Rights Fund, for a “full and independent investigation.” 

It has been convenient to deny this community their rights. State lawmakers may well have had legitimate concerns about the impact of gaming in the region, but their reasoning has little to bear on the claims of the Ramapough people.

The lack of federal recognition has adversely affected the Ramapough’s ability to oversee a proper remediation of the disastrous  contamination of the land that their homes sit on in a contentious Superfund remediation process executed by the EPA.

Federal Recognition Process & Atlantic City Gaming Interests