‘Sovereign immunity’ with relation to Indian casinos means many things that the community should know

Dear Editor,
I was amazed to read the response written by a potential
investor in a proposed Indian Gambling Casino in your area. One of
the greatest problems arising from the advent of legalized Indian
gambling in California is the complete lack of public knowledge of
the variety of significant problems that come with it.
Dear Editor,

I was amazed to read the response written by a potential investor in a proposed Indian Gambling Casino in your area. One of the greatest problems arising from the advent of legalized Indian gambling in California is the complete lack of public knowledge of the variety of significant problems that come with it.

When the people of California voted to allow class 3 casino gambling, they did so thinking they were giving a helping hand to poor Indians and that the small unobtrusive illegal casinos they were operating were essentially harmless. Virtually no one realized we have tiny tribes of 1, 4, 5, 8 and 15 members who then qualified to build and operate gambling casinos. Neither did most people understand that the federal government could grant recognition to yet more “tribes” and, using a loophole in the Indian Gambling Regulatory Act, could acquire land near cities and claim it as reservation land in order to build a casino.

There has been an explosion of huge mega-casinos by these “tribes” who are often made up of part Indians and even non-Indians because under federal law it is up to the tribe to determine who is or isn’t a member.

These tribes pair up with non-Indian investors to build more and more casinos and do so without regard to the negative off-site impacts they cause. They are allowed to do so because under the court created doctrine of “tribal sovereign immunity” they are exempt from complying with zoning laws and the California Environmental Protection laws. They are able to use all local public services extensively, yet they cannot be taxed to pay for them, like fire, police, schools, hospitals, libraries, roads, sewer and water service and other infrastructure.

Individual tribe members can vote for elected public officials, but the public has no right to vote for tribal officers. This outdated court doctrine allows these casinos and Indian businesses to evade state mandated employee protections and insulate them from lawsuits by injured or cheated patrons or those non-Indians who have contracted with the tribe in good faith.

In short, they are above all the laws that every other non-Indian business must abide by. Consequently, they often drive out local businesses who cannot compete with such a privileged status. Millions of dollars are then siphoned from local economies into the pockets of a few part-Indian and non-Indian investors.

Although to get the community support they always promise jobs, they are not obligated to hire any local workers and, of course, never divulge to workers that by taking that job they are giving up all their legal rights.

Similarly, patrons don’t realize that, unlike in Nevada, there is no mandatory minimum fair return rate on slot machines in Indian casinos and these “sovereign tribes” refuse to disclose whatever rate of return they do pay, nor will they disclose their financial records, again under the claim of “sovereign immunity”.

As a result, even if they were required to pay the state some money, under the terms of the mandatory tribal-state compact, the state would be hard pressed to have the necessary records to compute such a tax.

Gambling has always been one of the most regulated businesses, but Indian gambling is essentially unregulated. Many of the laws that would apply are routinely ignored by federal authorities who most often pass the buck to another state or federal agency and even more remarkably say they will leave the enforcement up to the tribal gaming committee. The National Indian Gaming Commission only polices tribal Bingo and in effect leaves other matters up to negotiation of the tribal-state compact.

Unfortunately for the people of the communities with Indian gaming casinos, the attorney general and the Governor have done nothing to enforce those terms in the tribal-state compacts which presumably were to protect the citizens, the workers and the adjacent non-Indian communities. No action has been taken anywhere in the four-and-a-half years since the passage of Prop. 1A.

In perhaps the most ironic twist in this scandalous largess, these tribes making hundreds of millions of dollars from the non-Indian gambling public still receive millions in federal welfare and grant monies that are desperately needed by the true Native American Indians still living on vast reservations in conditions of deplorable poverty. These gambling tribes often make token gifts to nearby communities while spending more on advertising those gifts than the gifts themselves. They have so much cash that they spread millions around Sacramento and Washington, D.C. to insure this exclusive largess remains untouched. That is why the McCain/Feingold political contribution limits expressly exclude Indian tribes.

Most recently these tribes who promised local employment are “outsourcing” the jobs to foreign countries, bringing in students and foreign nations to work and even house them on Indian lands, the improvement of which is often paid for with federal grant monies. If you want to inform your readers just what can result from an Indian casino and other Indian businesses, give them the whole story.

James E. Marino, Morgan Hill

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