Indian tribes use casino profits to buy real estate

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Indian tribes use casino profits to buy real estate

Wealthy new tribes are buying up private land and asking the federal government to add it to their reservations, making it sovereign Indian territory. As a result, local authorities risk losing vital tax revenue.

For decades, the Sycuan Indian Reservation in eastern San Diego County was just a rugged little spot. At less than 700 acres in the rural Dehesa Valley, it was one of San Diego’s smaller reservations.

But over the past decade, the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Indians used the profits from his successful casino to purchase approximately 2,000 acres of land surrounding the reservation.

Now it’s ask the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to designate approximately 1,300 of those acres as reservation land – nearly tripling the size of the reservation and making the land sovereign Indian territory.

The effort has met with some opposition in the surrounding community, as once this land becomes part of the reservation, it is no longer subject to local taxes, laws or building restrictions.

The planning group objected, as did the San Diego County Supervisor Diana Jacob, which represents a large swath of Eastern County that includes most of San Diego County’s 18 reservations.

For the tribe, the move is steeped in symbolism.

“Historically and aboriginally, this was their entire territory. Then they were isolated on this one small reservation,” said Adam Day, who manages the tribe’s operations and is a spokesperson, but not a tribesman himself. He said the tribe’s new wealth has allowed it to regain control over land to which it has long had only historic – but not legal – claims.

The tool of the tribe is a 1934 federal law establishing land transfers called trust fees. He granted the United States Interior Department authority to accept private land from tribes and incorporate it into tribal reservations, giving them sovereign status.

For much of the 20th century, this rarely happened. Many tribes were too poor to buy land.

But now, flush with casino profits, many tribes can and have used the law. And the number of royalty-to-trust applications that tribes have submitted to the federal government has skyrocketed.

The Sycuan Tribe app is notable for its size. But it’s not the only one. According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, there are currently about 100 land transfer applications pending in California, and more in the Southwest and the country.

In San Diego County, tribes have submitted about 60 nominations – totaling 13,000 acres – since 2000, when California voters approved a new Indian gambling initiative.

The county estimates it will lose $1.3 million in property taxes per year if they are all approved.

There have been so many applications in California that over the past decade several dozen tribes have formed a coalition to work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to streamline the approval process.

Supervisor Jacob said she was concerned about the number of fee requests and the county’s limited role in the process.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t have a seat at the table, and the impacts are very severe on individual communities,” she said.

Jacob cited the loss of tax revenue and loss of control the county would otherwise have to approve development plans and mitigate impacts on communities surrounding reservations.

The county can submit comments on a proposed land transfer, but it has little real leverage to influence the Bureau of Indian Affair’s decision.

In Sycuan, the tribe said it would build 50 houses for tribesmen, an equestrian center and an RV park. He agreed to make payments to the county for the next seven years to compensate for lost property taxes, as well as to fund the construction of a nearby road. He is negotiating similar deals with local schools and fire districts and has agreed to turn over several hundred acres to a conservation group.

“It’s by the good grace of the tribe,” Jacob said, because the tribe had no legal obligation to make these concessions.

But they left nearby residents less than satisfied. Rae Ann Fields lives in a tidy house just outside the Sycuan reservation. She and other members of the community spoke out against the tribe’s expansion plan.

“Our community has no objection to Sycuan purchasing additional land in any way,” Fields said. “It’s good for them. They succeed; they are able to do that.

But she worries about how lost property taxes could affect the local school and that the tribe may later revise its development plans.

“Our concern is that we have no say in how this land is developed,” Fields said.

Day, the tribe’s deputy manager, says the tribe has no plans to continue expanding or building another casino.

“They’re not looking to turn the whole county into a reservation,” he said. “But they’re trying to accommodate their tribal members and their other government services, and you need a land base to do that, just like a county or a city needs a property to build facilities and provide services. .”

Day said the tribe expects the land transfer to be approved this summer.

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