9th Circuit rules in dispute over Redding Rancheria gaming site

Gaming machines at the Win-River Casino in California. Photo from Facebook

The Redding Rancheria of California will get another shot at opening a casino on a newly acquired site thanks to a decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The tribe filed a land-into-trust application for 232 acres with the hopes of moving the Win-River Casino to a bigger location. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, however, said the site didn't qualify under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Generally, IGRA bars gaming on land acquired after 1988. But Section 20 of the law allows an exception for tribes that were restored to federal recognition.

The Redding Rancheria was restored in 1983 as part of the Tillie Hardwick litigation. So the 9th Circuit said there is "no dispute" that the tribe meets the definition of a restored tribe.

However, the court upheld a provision in the BIA's Section 20 regulations that effectively limits restored tribes to just one casino. By a unanimous vote, the 9th Circuit said the restriction was "reasonable" even though it's not actually written anywhere in IGRA.

"We conclude that the [Interior] Secretary reasonably implemented the restored lands exception, to limit the extent to which a restored tribe may operate gaming facilities on restored land, in order to ensure parity between restored and established tribes," the decision stated. "There is nothing unreasonable about the regulation’s intent to prevent restored tribes from acquiring additional land to operate multiple gaming operations."

However, by a 2-1 vote, the court said the BIA should have taken into account the tribe's intent to close down the Win-River Casino. The 9th Circuit remanded the matter to the agency for further consideration.

"Allowing a restored tribe to move a casino does not appear to conflict with the statutory purpose of ensuring parity among restored and established tribes," the majority wrote. "Restored tribes, if allowed to operate an indefinite number of casinos on newly restored lands, would of course have an advantage over established tribes, but it is not clear that allowing restored tribes to move a casino to a different location would necessarily have the same effect."

The Bush administration developed and finalized the Section 20 regulations amid pressure from Congress and the public regarding the expansion of gaming. The Redding case appears to be the first that directly challenged a specific provision of the controversial rules.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Redding Rancheria v. Jewell.

9th Circuit Decision:
Redding Rancheria v. Jewell (January 20, 2015)

Oral Arguments in Redding Rancheria v. Jewell:

DOI Indian Land Opinion:
Larry Echo Hawk Letter to Redding Rancheria (December 22, 2010)

Federal Register Notice for 2008 Section 20 Regulations:
Part I-IV | Part V | PDF

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9th Circuit hears dispute over Redding Rancheria gaming site (04/17)

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