Thursday, June 12, 2003
Davis Administration Dealt Fairly With Tribes Over Gambling Compacts, Ninth Circuit Panel Rules
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Gov. Gray Davis and other state officials acted in good faith during negotiations with California Indian tribes that preceded the adoption of Proposition 1A, the constitutional amendment that allows tribes to conduct Las Vegas-style wagering in the state, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
State officials acted properly in seeking a balance between the public interest and the tribal interest by insisting that gaming tribes share a portion of their revenue with the state and with non-gaming tribes, and that they recognize collective bargaining rights, Judge William Fletcher wrote for the court.
The judges rejected the appeal by the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, which operates a casino seven miles north of the Mendocino County seat of Ukiah. The Coyote Valley band was the sole appellant in a case originally brought by several tribes.
The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allocates responsibility for regulation of gambling on Indian lands among the tribes, the states and the federal government.
Gambling operations are divided into three types—Class I, traditional forms of small-stakes gambling on religious or social occasions, subject only to tribal regulation; Class II, made up of bingo, lotto, pull tabs, and similar games, subject to regulation by the tribes and the federal government; and Class III, consisting of all other forms of gambling.
The act permits Class III gambling only when the state and tribe have entered into a compact specifying how the games will be regulated. The state may be sued if it fails to negotiate in good faith. The statute provides, however, that the state is obligated to negotiate as to a particular forms of gambling only if it “permits such gaming” elsewhere in the state.
Davis, after taking office in January 1999, reversed his predecessor’s policy of refusing to negotiate with the tribes over any form of Class III gaming not permitted elsewhere in the state, in particular slot machines. The governor offered compacts, eventually signed by more than 60 tribes, granting the tribes a monopoly over the most lucrative forms of gambling in the state.
The negotiations took place in the spring, summer, and early fall of 1999. Proposition 1A was adopted by a 2 to 1 margin in March 2000, after Proposition 5—a statutory initiative designed to promote Indian gaming—was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Proposition 1A amended the California Constitution to allow Nevada-style gambling at slot machines, lottery games, and “banking” games in which the gaming operator competes against the customer.
The amendment restricts the operation of such games to casinos on Indian tribal lands. In exchange for the monopoly, tribes must enter into compacts with the state.
Fletcher, writing for the Court of Appeals, agreed with U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken of the Northern District of California, that asking tribes to share their revenues and recognize labor rights—in exchange for the “special opportunity” to enjoy a monopoly on high-stakes gambling in the state—was reasonable conduct on the part of the state.
The Coyote Valley Band has insisted on numerous occasions—including a hearing last month by an Assembly subcommittee expressing concern that families of casino workers are having to rely on state health programs because the tribes won’t provide insurance at reasonable cost—that efforts to dictate its employment practices or how it spends its revenues are an infringement on its sovereignty.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company