Denny’s Double Dealing: Hastert and the Gaming Industry. Part 1 of 3

by , posted on Thursday, November 2nd, 2006 at 10:15 pm

Originally posted at Fireside 14 and Daily Kos.

Lost in the media frenzy surrounding the breaking news of the Mark Foley scandal was the story that internet gambling prohibition, a piece of the so-called “American Values Agenda” that Dennis Hastert and the House Republicans have been promoting this election season, had been signed into law that same day. Along with the bills included in their “suburban agenda” (you remember, that’s the one where they stressed their commitment to protecting kids from internet predators) the measures incorporated into the American Values Agenda were designed to rally the Republican base by billboarding the party’s allegiance to conservative values. Regarding the internet gambling legislation in particular, Hastert said, “It seeks to protect our children from gambling sites at home, keep our hard-earned money in the bank, and put the criminals that seek to take advantage of our family earnings in jail.” But if, by chance, any of that rhetoric gave you the impression that Dennis Hastert was seriously concerned about such things, or that he was in any fundamental way an opponent of the gaming industry, I’ve got a tip for you. Don’t bet on it.


Not far beyond the leading edge of suburban development west of Chicago, at Shabbona, Illinois, the Prairie Band of Potawatomi Indians has begun buying back land that was once a Potawatomi reservation, given by treaty in 1829 to the medicine man from whom the town later took it’s name. The return of the Potawatomis, however, and the possibility that a casino might be coming with them, has provoked a great deal of controversy locally. Some members of the community are ardently opposed to the idea of a casino and its related development changing the quiet, small town way of life they currently enjoy in Shabbona. Others think that the jobs and development a casino would bring could be a good thing.

Shabbona is in Dennis Hastert’s congressional district, and Hastert himself grew up not far from there, near Oswego. In fact, Hastert grew up right next to two other Potawatomi reservations. The same Treaty of Prairie du Chien that gave Shabbona his reservation also gave two Potawatomi women, Waish-Kee-Shaw and Mo-Ah-Way, more than a thousand acres outside of what, a few years later, would become the village of Oswego. The local park district still maintains a 22 acre remnant of these reservations today as Waa Kee Sha Park, located, appropriately enough, on Reservation Road just south of town, and there is an effort being made right now to preserve the last 100 acres of nearby Reservation Woods before development takes it’s toll. Actually, Hastert grew up with traces of the Potawatomi Indians all around him. Waubonsie Creek, which winds through Oswego, was named after the war chief of the Potawatomis. Na-Au-Say Township, where Waa Kee Sha Park is located, took its name from the Potawatomi village that had been there long before the reservations were established. And, interestingly enough, the area Hastert’s own Luxemburger immigrant community made theirs in the 1850s, the “Big Woods” on the north side of neighboring Aurora, had been the site of Waubonsie’s own village not long before Hastert’s people arrived.

One would expect that Hastert, a lifelong history buff supposedly, and a high school history teacher before he began his political career, would know a little something about the Potawatomis, and perhaps even feel some sympathy for them, but apparently he does not. He has consistently opposed the establishment of a Potawatomi casino at Shabbona, going so far as to co-sponsor a bill in 2001 that sought to extinguish Indian land claims in Illinois, and thereby extinguish as well any possibility that the Potawatomi tribe would be able to establish a casino on it’s ancestral land. According to Hastert, what is going on at Shabbona is nothing more than “venue shopping by tribes, in areas that they weren’t necessarily in before, to put casinos down. We have a problem in Illinois with Miami Indians, in central Illinois. We also have a problem in my own district with the Kansas Potawatomi’s who want to do the same thing.”

Hastert has also opposed the establishment of a casino by the Ho-Chunk Nation along the Northwest Tollway in suburban Chicago. And when his letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton — written in 2003 in opposition to the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians’ desire to establish a new casino — was attacked as a quid pro quo for campaign contributions from Jack Abramoff and his clients, Michael Stokke, Hastert’s deputy chief of staff, claimed “We’ve always opposed these things [Indian casinos], in our backyard, in our state, someplace else.”

The problem with that claim is that when Hastert intervened in opposition to the Jena Band’s casino application, he was also, at the very same time, intervening in support of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, who already had a casino and wanted to eliminate the threat of competition from a new one. And, it is worth mentioning, the Coushatta Tribe had already contributed $10,000 to Hastert’s Keep Our Majority PAC at the time the letter was written, while the Jena Band had contributed no money to Hastert at all.

Protecting existing casinos in his district from competition was the stated reason for his opposition to the Ho-Chunk casino as well.

Officials in U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s office Monday said the Yorkville Republican has major concerns about how the proposed Ho-Chunk Casino could harm riverboat operations and cash-strapped governments along the Fox River. …

The potential loss of local revenue worries Hastert, spokesman Brad Hahn said. “He is keeping his eye on how this turns out,” Hahn said. “Obviously, he has big concerns about how this would affect riverboats in Aurora and Elgin, both in his district.”

Again, it is worth mentioning that the existing casinos in his district were campaign contributors. Hastert has received at least $97,500 from the Mandalay Resort Group/MGM Mirage [1, 2, 3] and the Pritzker family (Hyatt Corp.) [4, 5, 6, 7, 8], co-owners of the Grand Victoria Casino riverboat in Elgin, and at least $75,000 from the operators of the Hollywood Casino riverboat in Aurora [9, 10, 11]. And the Prairie Band of Potawatamis in Shabbona? The Ho-Chunk Nation? No, they hadn’t contributed any money to Hastert.

Being opposed to Indian gaming per se had nothing to do with Hastert’s opposition to these particular casinos. And it would seem that everybody involved in the Indian casino end of the gaming industry understands this, because a long list of them have been perfectly happy to give him money. The campaign committees and PACs Hastert controls have received at least $416,500 in campaign contributions from Indian gaming interests alone during the last ten years.

$70,000 from the Gila River Indian Community [12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21]
$43,000 from the Morongo Band of Mission Indians [22, 23, 24, 25, 26]
$41,500 from the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation [27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33]
$30,000 from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community [34, 35, 36, 37]
$27,000 from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (Abramoff client) [38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43]
$26,000 from the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (Abramoff client) [44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49]
$26,000 from the Oneida Indian Nation [50, 51]
$25,000 from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe (Abramoff client) [52, 53, 54, 55]
$17,500 from the National Indian Gaming Association and it’s American Indian Sovereignty Self-Determination and Economic PAC [56, 57]
$16,000 from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians [58, 59, 60, 61]
$15,000 from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians [62, 63, 64]
$10,000 from the Barona Indian Tribe [65, 66]
$10,000 from the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana (Abramoff client) [67, 68]
$10,000 from the Osage Tribal Council [69, 70]
$10,000 from the Seneca Nation Indians [71, 72]
$7,000 from the Viejas Tribal Government [73, 74]
$5,000 from the Ak-Chin Indian Community [75]
$5,000 from the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana [76]
$5,000 from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians [77]
$5,000 from the Mohegan Tribe [78]
$5,000 from the Seminole Tribe of Florida [79]
$4,000 from the Forest County Potawatomi Community [80]
$1,000 from the Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa [81]
and $1,000 from Schaghticoke Tribal Nation Chief Richard Velky Sr., who hoped to be able to get a casino for his tribe, too. [82]

Also, $1,000 from Paragon Gaming (manages various Indian casinos) [83]
and $500 from Station Casinos (manages a casino for the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Potawatomi Indians in Michigan, among others) [84]

And if you want to consider contributions from lobbyists registered to represent Indian tribes in the casino business, add at least another $228,000 to the total.

$151,000 from Akin Gump [85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99]
$75,000 from Greenberg Traurig [100, 101, 102, 103, 104]
$2,000 from Preston Gates Ellis [105, 106]

Nothing could be farther from the truth than the notion that Dennis Hastert is opposed to Indian casinos here, there and everywhere. Indeed, Hastert is on such good terms with the Gila River Indian Community — thanks to their shared concern with diabetes most certainly, but perhaps also because Gila River is by far the most generous of Hastert’s Indian gaming campaign contributors — that their annual Speaker’s Cup golf tournament is named in honor of him. And when Hastert made charitable contributions earlier this year to atone for at least some of the Abramoff-tainted contributions he had taken, instead of giving the money back to the tribes from whom he had received it, the lion’s share of those donations went to Gila River.

But Indian gaming, or should I say Indian gaming money, isn’t the half of it.

To go to Part 2, click here | To go to Part 3, click here


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