With many legal battles surrounding gaming in California still up in the air, a decision from the US Department of the Interior is catching a lot of heat from Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The department is rejecting Class III gaming compacts between California and two tribes: the Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians and the Santa Rosa Indian Community of the Santa Rancheria. Class III gaming compacts are agreements between states and tribes that stipulate how many gaming devices and casinos a tribe can operate, according to the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations.
Gov. Newsom signed the compacts back in March, and this decision is not sitting well with him.
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Gov. Newsom: ‘The Department chose to disregard the interests of the tribes’
The decision denies the tribes the ability to expand their existing casinos and add more casino-style gambling options, such as slot machines, roulette, and craps. Surprise is a feeling both tribes share due to the compacts’ rejections.
Gov. Newsom feels the same way. According to Newsom, this is the second time the DOI has “arbitrarily disapproved” gaming compacts with the Santa Rosa Rancheria and the Middletown Rancheria. This despite what he called “carefully negotiated” agreements between the state and the tribes to provide them the economic benefits of gaming.
“Despite the tribes’ efforts to meet with Interior and changes negotiated with the State of California to address concerns expressed by Interior, the Department chose to disregard the interests of the tribes,” Newsom said in a press release.
The Middletown Rancheria tribe operates Twin Pine Casino & Hotel near Middletown. The venue offers a limited range of gaming options with 25,000 square feet of gaming space, over 500 slot machines, and table games. It also has a hotel with over 59 rooms, including three luxury suites, and dining and entertainment options.
The tribe had planned to add table games, including roulette and craps, to its casino.
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Meanwhile, the Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi Yokut tribe operates the Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino in Lemoore. The property has 145,000 square feet of gaming space with over 2,000 slot and video games, classic slots, and a high-limit room. The venue also has 21 table games.
The tribe had planned to expand by 44,000 square feet and add a three-level parking garage, an additional 12-room hotel tower, and a new bingo hall/conference center.
“The disapprovals threaten the ability of these and other tribes to invest and maintain jobs in many of California’s economically disadvantaged communities,” Newsom said. “The State of California will continue working with Santa Rosa Rancheria and Middletown Rancheria to rectify this decision and avoid its negative impacts.”
The tribes’ reaction to the DOI’s decision
On July 22, US Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Bryan Newland informed the Middletown Rancheria tribe that it had not adequately executed his recommended changes to the 2021 agreement, which the DOI also rejected, according to the Lake County News.
Newland called the decision an attempt to protect the interests of the tribe against burdensome governmental oversight. He argued that the compact granted expansive powers to the state and local governments to regulate tribal activities and lands that are not directly related to the actual conduct of gaming.
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Jose “Moke” Simon is the Chairman of the Middletown Rancheria tribal council. He said he was shocked by the DOI’s disapproval of the compact.
“While California has taken great steps forward, sadly, the betrayal we feel from (US) Secretary (of the Interior Deb) Haaland is something we have come to expect from the federal government,” Simon said in a statement. “The path forward is now paved with stones that will make it difficult to navigate our tribe’s future.”
Leo Sisco, Chairman of the Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi Yokut Tribe, was also taken back by the decision. He said the disapproval will compromise the tribe’s economy.
“Our tribe will not have the resources to expand the Tachi Palace Casino that would have created new living wage jobs; and benefited an ailing local economy,” said Sisco. “The chilling effect this decision will have in Indian Country is immeasurable and the financial cost to our tribe will be irreparable.”
The CNIGA Sides With the DOI
Not all Indian organizations were unhappy with the DOI’s decision.
James Siva, Chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, released this lengthy statement following Gov. Newsom’s scathing remarks directed toward the DOI:
“While the California Nations Indian Gaming Association believes that every California tribe is entitled to a class III gaming compact that complies with IGRA, and while CNIGA has the greatest respect and appreciation for Gov. Newsom’s stated intention to rectify the many historic wrongs committed or facilitated by the state of California against its Native peoples, in this instance Gov. Newsom simply is wrong, and the Department of the Interior is correct. Simply put, the state should not put any tribe in the position of having to choose between the self-reliance offered through gaming, and surrendering its sovereignty in matters not directly related to and necessary for the regulation, licensing and actual operation of class III gaming activities.As the Department of the Interior, the tribes’ trustee, explained in its letters once again disapproving new compacts between the state and two California tribes, Congress never intended that California or any other state be able to use tribal governments’ need for gaming compacts as leverage for imposing requirements and restrictions that have little or nothing to do with the actual regulation, licensing or conduct of class III gaming activities.
“That is exactly what these two compacts would allow the state to do, just as two compacts signed with these two tribes that the Department disapproved last November did. All of this despite California tribes’ unblemished 22-year record of capable regulation, licensing and operation of their gaming facilities without significant adverse impacts on surrounding non-tribal communities.
“The California Legislature recently approved extensions of the compacts that were due to expire on June 30, 2022. Rather than continuing to fight the tribes in court, Gov. Newsom should come to the negotiating table prepared to enter into new agreements that are confined to what IGRA permits. If he were to do that, new IGRA-compliant compacts could be in place well before the current agreements expire, and the chairs of the two tribes whose compacts were disapproved would not have to worry about any threats to their future prosperity.”