Calling California Indian Tribes “as resilient as ever,” California Nations Indians Gaming Association Chairman James Siva delivered a message of unity and strength in his annual State of the Tribal Nations speech earlier this week.
Siva spoke in the general session portion of the Western Indian Gaming Conference held at Sycuan Casino Resort on Feb. 14. Siva also serves as the Vice Chairman for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians in Cabazon, California.
Here are the main takeaways from Siva’s speech, which was essentially the “State of the Union” for California tribal gaming.
Prop 27 Defeat Shows Tribal Strength
As a tribal leader for one of the more profitable tribes with a casino in the state, Siva cited the failure of Prop 27 last November at the ballot as a win for CNIGA.
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According to Siva, Prop 27 “would have given out-of-state commercial gaming interests control over online sports wagering in California.” He mentioned that voters from both parties and politicians from across the aisle opposed the measure, illustrating a “stunningly large coalition from across the political spectrum” in defeating Prop 27.
“Tribes are by far the better entities to offer sports wagering in California than out-of-state commercial, for-profit corporations,” Siva told the audience at the CNIGA meeting. “We have a proven track record of operating well-run and well-regulated gaming establishments, and we are inherently rooted in California.
“And unlike those out-of-state commercial groups, we also have a proven record of positive impact in the Golden State.”
Prop 26, which would have legalized retail sports betting at Indian casinos and horse racetracks, also failed in the 2022 election. Siva and other tribal leaders have said they’re open to working with sportsbook operators in the future — but only on their terms.
Calls for Crackdown on California Card Rooms
As is often the case when tribal nations gather to discuss gaming, the issue of card rooms was raised.
The CIGNA, Siva explained, is looking to the state to enforce laws on the books that prohibit for-profit card rooms offering house-banked table games, such as blackjack.
“For too long, the state has looked the other way,” Siva said. “While commercial card rooms have ramped up offerings of Class III, house-banked card games in blatant violation of the California Constitution, which grants tribes the exclusive rights to these games.”
California’s moratorium on card rooms ended Jan. 1. That means, for the first time since 1995, new card rooms can acquire gaming licenses and open in California. Assemblymember James Ramos, the first Native American ever elected to the State Assembly, proposed a new card room moratorium bill on Jan. 30.
Siva suggests that CNIGA and its member nations call for a moratorium.
Two Recent Casino Openings
In recent months, two new casinos have debuted in California:
- Elk Valley Casino, located in Crescent City. This new location has more than 300 slot machines and a poker room.
- Wilton Rancheria’s Sky River Casino, which is located in Elk Grove, just south of Sacramento. The site features 100,000 square feet of gaming floor space, 12 restaurants, and more than 80 gaming tables.
Siva noted that Elk Valley is “the second largest employer in their area, second only to the Pelican Bay State Prison.”
Five New Member Tribes Join CNIGA
Stating that CNIGA’s “collective strength continues to grow,” Siva welcomed five new member tribes to the organization:
- Alturas Indian Rancheria
- Big Sandy Rancheria of Mono Indians
- Colusa Indian Community,
- Karuk Tribe
- Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation
This lifts the number of tribes to 47 federally recognized governments as members of CNIGA.
More Than 60,000 Jobs Provided by California Tribal Governments, Many in Rural Communities
Citing a report from the California Employment Development Department, Siva noted that California tribal governments (including non-CNIGA tribes) provided over 63,000 jobs in 2022. That’s an increase of approximately 6,000 jobs from 2021.
“Most of (those jobs) are in rural areas and smaller towns, away from the state’s more job rich urban centers,” Siva said. “Tribes have been here since time immemorial and are tied to our respective lands, we will not pick up and move to another state if the economy shifts. This reality guarantees employment opportunities in some of California’s poorest and most rural communities.”
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Takes Issue with Feds Over Indian Gaming Regulatory Act
In recent months, courts in California have ruled inconsistently on proposed compacts between tribal nations and the state. Often, it appears the issue has been a nebulous interpretation of federal rules on what tribes and the state can negotiate.
Siva sees this as a critical issue that threatens the sovereignty of California tribe’s and CNIGA members.
“(There has been) an inconsistent and outright contradictory message coming from the federal government as to how they will interpret the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” Siva said. “All of this is all too reminiscent of the past maleficence of officials that tarnish our history with the federal government.”
Alleged Misuse of Indian Gaming Special Distribution Fund
CNIGA and California’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee have agreed on an audit process for the Indian Gaming Special Distribution Fund, which Siva contends has been misused by the state.
An earlier audit in 2022, Siva said, “reported that the Bureau of Gambling Control continues to charge the SDF for non-tribal activities, but because of opaque practices to account for employee hours at the Bureau, the audit was unable to determine just how much. This is entirely unacceptable.”
According to Siva, state auditor Michael Tilden, said of his findings: “(W)e determined that the state has not effectively managed the distribution fund, and it has allowed the fund to accumulate an excessive reserve.”