MENDOCINO CO. 02/08/22 – In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a district court ruling in favor of five Native American tribes that said the state failed to negotiate settlements. good faith gambling pacts. Tribes include the Pomo Hopland Indian Band of Mendocino County as well as Chicken Ranch Rancheria, Robinson Rancheria, Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, and Blue Lake Rancheria. In the decision, the court wrote that the state had attempted to push “political objectives” on the tribes beyond the scope of gambling pacts.
This case involved pacts that were due to expire in 2023 after being extended in contentious negotiations. The state and individual tribes wishing to conduct Class III gaming, also known as Vegas-style gaming, must come to an agreement on terms, and this must be approved by the Department of the Interior. Under a 1988 law, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the state can set certain conditions during negotiations, but they must fall into seven categories. One category, “any other matter directly related to the operation of gambling activities”, was central to the case, with state and tribes diverging on “directly related”.
The tribes claimed the state had gone too far, attempting to incorporate tort reform, family law provisions and about 30 pages of environmental regulations into the pact. The court accepted. “All of the impugned provisions, we hasten to add,” the court wrote, “infringe upon fundamental aspects of tribal sovereignty regarding the governance of tribes over their lands and people and their decisions about how to structure entire areas of tribal law”.
Tribal members argue this is a matter of sovereignty, with the state imposing regulatory authority in areas where it has no jurisdiction and setting a precedent that could be used throughout California. In a press release, Ukiah’s official attorney, Lester J. Marson, said, “This decision will prevent the State of California from using future gaming pacts to expand its regulatory authority over the tribes, in violation of their right to govern themselves on their reserves. .”
Dissenting Circuit Judge Patrick J. Bumatay agreed with his colleagues regarding the overly broad scope of topics for discussion under the pact, but still believed the state was engaging in good faith negotiations. In his dissent, he argued that the case should be sent back to the lower courts for further consideration.
Notably, the Home Office recently disapproved of a proposed gambling pact on the grounds that it was beyond the scope of the IGRA. In another recent letter of disapproval, the agency wrote that it had issued “four such letters of guidance to the State of California over the past decade, highlighting concern over the practice of ‘state of asserting greater control over tribal land use decisions’.
According to the state’s Gambling Control Commission, 63 of the state’s 109 tribes operate 66 casinos, while the state has negotiated compacts with 75. Under IGRA, uses of gambling revenue are limited and include economic development, tribal welfare, charitable donations and tribal government funding. In addition to disbursing funds to tribe members, it is also permissible to engage in revenue sharing with another tribe that does not have a gaming pact.
The full court decision can be read here. The state has the option of appealing to the US Supreme Court.