By Patrick Sullivan

On September 4, 2013, Jonodev Osceola Chaudhuri, an enrolled member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, was appointed to a three-year term as Associate Commissioner, and on October 28, he was designated Acting Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission (“NIGC”), the federal agency responsible for the regulation of Indian gaming. Chaudhuri was appointed by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

Chaudhuri joins Associate Commissioner Daniel J. Little on the Commission, who was sworn in for a second three-year term. Indian Country Today magazine characterized Chaudhuri as a strong advocate of tribal sovereignty and quoted him as being excited about the post and Indian gaming, which he believes “dramatically impacts and improves people’s lives.” Chaudhuri stated he would continue former Chairwoman Tracie Stevens’ prioritization of collaboration and assistance to gaming tribes in order to minimize the necessity of punitive enforcement actions.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”) provides for a three-person NIGC. The Chairperson is generally appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, and two Associate Commissioners are appointed by the Secretary of the Interior. IGRA requires that at least two members of the Commission must be enrolled Indian tribe members, and no more than two members of the Commission may be of the same political party.

Due to the unique structure of the NIGC, as Acting Chairman, Chaudhuri alone is the decision maker in most Commission regulatory and enforcement actions. IGRA specifies that the powers of the Chairman include the issuance of temporary closure orders, levying of civil fines, approval of tribal gaming ordinances and management contracts, and any other powers delegated by the Commission. In general, the full Commission only acts to confirm or reverse the Chairman’s actions on appeal.

Chaudhuri will be advised by NIGC Acting General Counsel Eric Shepard, who joined NIGC in April 2012 after serving as Attorney General at Colorado River Indian Tribes for ten years. Shepard leads a team of attorneys comprising the NIGC Office of the General Counsel who advise the Commissioners. The NIGC also maintains a field staff of compliance officers, auditors, and administrative staff in regional offices in Portland (Oregon), Sacramento, Phoenix, St. Paul, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Washington, D.C.

Prior to his appointment, Chaudhuri had served as Senior Counselor to the Department of the Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Kevin Washburn. Before his government service, Chaudhuri worked in private practice and served as a judge on several tribal courts, including service as Chief Justice of the Muscogee Creek Nation Supreme Court.

The NIGC’s latest reports show that in 2012, Indian gaming brought in $27.9 billion in revenues from 420 gaming facilities operated by 240 tribes in 28 states.