California-based Indian tribes have every right to operate casinos on reservations, so long as the governor, the Legislature and, on occasion, the electorate can have their say.
Based on two recent federal court decisions, however, California’s authority is in doubt. Judges essentially have told the state to acquiesce to tribes and their commercial partners. That’s hardly what voters had in mind in 2000 when they granted tribes monopoly rights to operate slot machines in casinos on their land.
Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, has introduced legislation that would make clear that California decision makers are not potted plants. LaMalfa’s HR 5079 is a California-specific bill that seeks to prohibit the U.S. interior secretary from authorizing casinos over objections of California officials and voters.
LaMalfa has four California co-sponsors: Republicans Jeff Denham of Turlock and Paul Cook of Apple Valley, and Democrats Jared Huffman of San Rafael and Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert. The other 47 members of California’s congressional delegation should sign on.
The measure was inspired by proposals to build Indian-owned casinos off their reservations, one on Highway 99 near Madera, and the other at the Toyota Amphitheatre in Yuba County. Voters rejected the Madera compact in 2014. The Legislature didn’t authorize the Yuba County casino. That should have been the end. But the tribes sued and are winning.
There are more than 100 tribes in California, far more than any other state, and 60 Indian-owned casinos. Most tribes build casinos only on existing reservations. But with capital from outside developers, some tribes seek to open new gambling palaces in more urban settings, with or without state approval.
Californians have made clear that tribes can operate casinos. But that right is not unfettered. Voters expect to have a say, as do California’s elected leaders. Tribes and their partners should understand that one sure way to run afoul of the voters is to ignore their voice.
Meanwhile, another piece of congressional legislation, HR 511, would reverse a National Labor Relations Board decision that requires tribes to comply with the National Labor Relations Act at their casinos.
Most Republicans supported the measure, and most Democrats opposed it. One exception was Rep. Loretta Sanchez, the Orange County Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate. Sanchez’s main opponent, Attorney General Kamala Harris, said in an interview she was not familiar with the measure.
Tribes are sovereign. But their casinos employ non-Indian workers. One argument used to sell casinos to the public is that they provide jobs. Those jobs should come with basic protections afforded by federal law.