by Mateusz Mazur

“Lawyers play an important role in assisting tribes to navigate the legal hurdles”

In a conversation with Heidi McNeil Staudenmaier, a seasoned Gaming and Indian Law Partner at Snell & Wilmer, we delve into her unique specialization in gaming law and Native American law. With a keen eye on emerging trends and a wealth of experience in legal and leadership realms, Heidi’s perspective offers a profound understanding of the challenges and opportunities lying ahead for the gaming sector and Native American communities.

Throughout your career, what inspired you to specialize in gaming law and Native American law?

I got one of the highest grades in a Federal Indian Law class at the University of Iowa College of Law and was intrigued by the whole body of law because it was so intellectually stimulating and challenging. When I joined my law firm Snell & Wilmer after graduating in 1985, one of the senior partners designated me as the firm’s “expert” in Federal Indian Law.

Arizona has 22 Native American Tribes so there were multiple opportunities to become immersed in legal issues. When the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was passed by the US Congress in 1988, I was fortunate to be on the forefront of handling legal issues confronted by the tribal gaming operations in Arizona and elsewhere as they expanded around the country.

Can you share a case or project in your career that has had a profound impact on Native American communities or the gaming industry?

I was involved with navigating the complex regulatory process for obtaining approval for a management contract involving a new tribal gaming operation.

The tribal gaming revenues were critical to the tribe’s ability to develop other economic ventures and ultimately being able to buy back land that had been wrongfully taken away from the tribe over 100 years earlier.

What do you consider to be the most pressing issues facing the global gaming industry today?

Assuring compliance with the countless regulatory requirements in hundreds of jurisdictions around the world, and trying to remain competitive in an environment where there are certain companies who consistently seek to avoid the legal requirements.

What role do you believe legal professionals can play in promoting economic development within Native American territories?

Lawyers play an important role in assisting tribes to navigate the legal hurdles involved in expanding their economic ventures beyond gaming, such as commercial developments both on and off tribal lands involving hotels, golf courses, other entertainment venues, and other business ventures.

In your perspective, what are the primary challenges and prospects for the gaming industry within Native American communities and tribal lands?

The primary challenges for tribal gaming operations are the same challenges as those faced by the gaming industry overall – trying to continually provide new gaming experiences and product to retain existing customers and attract new customers, particularly younger players who may be seeking entertainment experiences elsewhere than the gaming industry.

As someone who has been extensively involved in the American Bar Association and various legal organizations, what advice do you have for young lawyers aspiring to leadership roles within these groups?

There are countless opportunities to get involved in bar associations, whether at the local, state or national level. The first step is to get involved and be a “doer”. Don’t just join an organization and do nothing, and sit in the background.

Be active and take on leadership roles. The more leadership responsibilities you take on, the more you will be given and the further you will be able to advance in the organization.

Looking forward, what emerging trends or legal developments do you believe will impact Native American law and the US gaming sector in the coming years?

iGaming continues to be popular and it seems every jurisdiction is considering, or has considered, iGaming in some sort of format.

The challenge for each jurisdiction will be to determine appropriate and reasonable regulations, as warranted for each situation. Problem gambling is also a pressing issue that every jurisdiction is addressing.

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