American Indian gaming law<br><br>

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the third of a series addressing the legal rights of American Indian tribes and individuals. The emphasis will be on the history of Navajo and American Indian federal law and should not be considered legal advice for any individual or group.)

State concern over American Indian gaming and the creation of a gaming regulatory act began with the state of California and its government’s concern over high stakes bingo being conducted on two California Indian reservations in the 1970s.

The Cabazon and Morongo Bands of Mission Indians were conducting high stakes bingo operations on their reservation, which was creating income for the tribe. California is a mandatory Public Law 83-280 state, which gives the state jurisdictional control over monitoring criminal activity on the California Indian reservations.

Due to this fact, state officials became concerned over tribes who were not following state law, which only allowed bingo type games to be held by charitable organizations (churches) and for a maximum pot of $250. California officials, by the authorization of PL-280, tried to enforce its gambling laws on reservation lands and prohibited the two tribes from holding their bingo games.

The tribes challenged the state involvement in their gaming activities and the United States Supreme Court eventually heard their case in 1987. This case, California V. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, help distinguish between prohibited and regulated types of state gaming and further interpreted state criminal law enforcement on Indian reservations within PL-280 states.

Because the state does allow certain types of gaming and it was not enforcing any type of crime on the specified Indian reservation, its criminal jurisdiction on that reservation did not apply to regulating civil activities such as gaming. This means that although California holds jurisdiction in criminal law enforcement, it does not have the right to regulate reservation activities.

This decision handed down by the US Supreme Court caused many officials in states where Indian Gaming was becoming a major industry to push congress into enacting legislation that would clarify which governmental entity had what control over specific types of gaming.

In 1988, US Congress enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which conferred upon states the rights of regulating Indian gaming to a certain extent.

The IGRA, however, did reserve certain rights for Indian tribes but limited gaming activities greatly. Prior to this act of congress, American Indians, according to the court case California V Cabazon Band of Mission Indians had the right to conduct gaming on their reservations without state interference.

With the IGRA enactment, tribes were left with little control of gaming activities on Indian land. The reason for states wanting control was stated in the act as being for, “ [shielding tribes] from organized crime and other corrupting influences.”

One main controversial issue of Indian gaming outlined in the IGRA requires that any Class III Gaming Activity must be approved by the state and agreed on in a gaming compact. If the state denies Class III gaming, the tribe has no input regarding the decision.

If the state prohibits Class II and III gaming, the tribes cannot conduct these types of gaming. Also, Class II and III are subject to the approval of the National Indian Gaming Commission and subject to its regulations.

The IGRA outlines three classes of gaming and to which government, state or tribal entity control goes.

(Comments about articles in this series are welcome. Send them to the Navajo-Hopi Observer editor, via e-mail: or phone: 877-627-3787.)


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