Chumash Tribe and leaders sued over $160M casino expansion

This artist's rendering shows the hotel tower at the Chumash Casino Resort. Image from Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians

An opposition group in California is suing the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and its leaders in hopes of stopping the tribe's $160 million casino expansion.

The tribe will be adding a 12-story hotel tower with 215 rooms to the Chumash Casino Resort. There will also be 75,000 additional square-feet of gaming space, a 20,000 square-foot pool deck, new food and beverage venues and a parking garage with 584 spaces.

Save the Valley, however, claims the casino site was never placed in trust for the tribe. As such, the group believes the tribe and its leaders cannot claim sovereign immunity for activities that occur on fee land.

"Contrary to defendants’ assertion, the real property described here is not a federal Indian reservation, nor has it ever been a federal Indian reservation. No President, Congress, treaty, or Secretary of the Interior has even taken the real property 'into trust' for any Indian tribe," the complaint that was filed on April 3 states. As such, the real property and project at issue here is not federally protected Indian trust land and is not immune from the law that applies to ordinary land owners. Specifically, the real property where the defendants are carrying out their project is not in trust for the defendants, Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians, or any Indian tribe."

This artist's rendering shows the pool deck at the Chumash Casino Resort. Image from Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians

The immunity issue is significant in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community. In June 2014, the justices held that tribes cannot be sued for activities that do not occur on "Indian lands" as that term is defined by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

If the complaint is to be believed and the casino site is not "Indian lands," the tribe cannot be sued. Notably, the group does not make any reference to the Bay Mills case or to IGRA in its filing.

According to the lawsuit, the federal government acquired the land in 1938. By that time, the tribe's reservation had already been established.

Get the Story:
Group Fights Indian Casino Expansion (Courthouse News Service 4/7)

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