New bill takes aim at casinos opposed by rival tribes in California

The Enterprise Rancheria of California held a sunrise groundbreaking ceremony for the $170 million Fire Mountain Casino on April 8, 2016. Photo by Yuba County / Facebook

Two tribes that have won the right to open off-reservation casinos are now facing opposition on Capitol Hill.

In 2012, the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians and the Enterprise Rancheria made history by becoming the first tribes in California to complete the two-part determination process of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Both casino projects won approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs as well as the state governor.

That's when rival tribes with existing casinos launched a campaign that led voters to reject the North Fork Rancheria's Class III gaming compact at the polls in 2014. Rivals also kept the Enterprise Rancheria's agreement from being ratified at the state level.

Both tribes, however, have since won court decisions that require the state to return to the table. Two federal judges have ruled that the state has not been acting in "good faith" as required by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Now that the tribes are winning in court, a group of lawmakers is trying to prevent them from moving forward. They introduced H.R.5079, the California Compact Protection Act, last week in an attempt to bar the BIA from approving any new compacts submitted by the two tribes.

Artist's rendering of the Fire Mountain Casino. Image from Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe of the Enterprise Rancheria

"Under the disingenuous banner of 'protecting compacts and tribes,' this bill does neither — except perhaps protect the interests of a few rich gaming tribes who have long enjoyed the benefits of gaming and are now using this shameful 11th-hour attempt to stop competition by our tribe that has worked for more than a decade to comply with every requirement of federal law," Enterprise Rancheria Chairwoman Glenda Nelson told The Marysville Appeal-Democrat in response to the bill.

The text of the measure is not yet available on but it apparently makes reference to provisions in IGRA that go beyond the BIA's authority to approve gaming compacts. A draft that was provided to Law360 cites Section 20, the part of IGRA that applies to casinos on newly acquired lands.

Despite opposition, the Enterprise Rancheria broke ground on the $170 million Fire Mountain Casino early last month. The facility will feature Class II games until the tribe can secure approval for Class III games.

The North Fork Rancheria remains confident that it will be able to open a casino with Class III games. The tribe heard about the Capitol Hill effort in March.

“Every tribal leader across the nation should be deeply concerned about the principle being suggested by this effort, namely allowing the legislatures and citizens of all 50 states to weigh in on tribal rights, application of laws differently among tribes and that established federal gaming law … should be jeopardized to protect a few tribes from potential competition,” Chairwoman Maryann McGovran told The Fresno Bee.

The North Fork Rancheria has an office in North Fork, California. Photo from Facebook

In the past, lawmakers from California -- most notably, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) -- have introduced bills to limit new casinos. But those efforts haven't gained much traction due to opposition in Indian Country to amending the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act or changing the land-into-trust process in a negative way.

The last time a bill of that type came to a vote in the House was in 2006, when then-Congressman Richard Pombo (R-California) failed to secure enough support for a package he called the Restricting Indian Gaming to Homelands of Tribes Act (RIGHT) Act. He was voted out of office later that year.

Get the Story:
Rancheria reps call federal gaming bill ‘shameful’ (The Marysville Appeal-Democrat 5/1)
North Fork casino near Madera under fire in federal bill (The Fresno Bee 4/30)
Bill Would Require IGRA To Respect Calif. Voter Initiatives (Law360 4/28)
State, Enterprise Rancheria go to mediation over gaming compact (The Marysville Appeal-Democrat 4/24)

Bureau of Indian Affairs Documents for Enterprise Rancheria:
Press Release | Fact Sheet | Two-Part Determination Letter

Bureau of Indian Affairs Documents for North Fork Rancheria:
Press Release | Fact Sheet | Section 20 Determination

Federal Register Notices:
Indian Gaming (October 22, 2013)
Land Acquisitions; North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians of California (December 3, 2012)
Land Acquisitions; Enterprise Rancheria of Maidu Indians of California (December 3, 2012)

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