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Group's list inflates off-reservation gaming proposals

A casino watchdog group is circulating a list of what it says are dozens of off-reservation gaming applications in California but some of the items are unrelated to gaming or have yet to be submitted for federal review.

According to Cheryl Schmit, the founder of Stand Up For California, 40 tribes are seeking to establish off-reservation gaming in her state alone. She forwarded her list after Indianz.Com, without outright naming the group, questioned the list's legitimacy and the group's motivation.

"We do not seek to impede the economic progress and advancement of California's Native peoples; rather we seek regulatory reforms that we believe are in the best interests of all the inhabitants of our state," Schmit said after an April 6 story referred to Stand Up For California as an "opposition" group.

But Schmit's list contains some questionable items that bring the number of true off-reservation gaming proposals down considerably. To arrive at 40, the group includes tribes who have not submitted applications to the Bureau of Indian Affairs as well as tribes whose proposed land acquisitions have nothing to do with gaming.

As one example, the list cites a bill pending in Congress that would take 991 acres into trust for the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians. The bill states that the tribe cannot use the land for commercial development but Schmit claims it will "permit Pechanga to promote their second casino" and she claims the tribe has been exerting "overt political influence" on the issue.

Politics appear to motivate the placing of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians on the list as well. Schmit claims the tribe has "discussed" building a second casino and is expanding its current casino on land that doesn't qualify for gaming. She cites the tribe's political contributions, its hotel in Washington, D.C. and other business projects as evidence.

"This list continues to demonstrate the influence of gaming industry dollars on federal Indian policy for land acquisitions and tribal recognitions," Schmit charges.

Another oddity on the list is the Winnemucca Indian Colony of Nevada. The tribe has not submitted any gaming or land-into-trust applications but Schmit says the tribe's disputed leader wants to build a "cross states lines" casino in California. The BIA refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the disputed leader.

Several more items on the list are questionable or misleading. The Buena Vista Band of Me-Wuk Indians is building a casino on its original rancheria but Schmit accuses the tribe of reservation shopping anyway. The tribe received a favorable Indian lands determination from the National Indian Gaming Commission.

Likewise, the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians received a favorable determination for a casino on land within its original rancheria. Nevertheless, the tribe is on Schmit's list for opening a gaming facility on "non-trust land." According to the NIGC, all land within a reservation, regardless of trust status, qualifies for gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

The Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria is also accused of reservation shopping for seeking to acquire land 10 miles from its original rancheria, which was illegally terminated by the federal government. The NIGC has determined that the tribe qualifies for a restored lands exception under IGRA.

According to the BIA, there are 13 applications pending for off-reservation gaming. These applications require federal approval as well as the concurrence of the state governor in what is known as the two-part determination process of IGRA.

Additionally, the BIA has 21 applications pending under the four Section 20 exceptions in IGRA. A comparison of the BIA's documents with Schmit's list finds only six applications in common, far fewer than the 40 her group suggests.

While some of the tribes on Schmit's list may indeed submit applications in the future, their chances of success will be limited. The BIA is finalizing Section 20 regulations that will place some restrictions on the acquisition of land for gaming.

More significantly, the Senate and the House are considering bills that would wipe out the Section 20 process altogether except for the 13 pending applications. The bills also make it harder for newly recognized or restored tribes like the ones on Schmit's list to acquire land for gaming.

Cheryl Schmit' List:
Reservation Shopping California Style (Last Updated March 6, 2006)

NIGA Resolutions:
Section 20 | IGRA Amendments

Draft BIA Regulations:
Gaming on Lands Acquired After October 17, 1998

Relevant Documents:
Kevin Gover Testimony | Aurene Martin Testimony | Title 25 CFR Part 151 Land-into-Trust Process | Section 20 of IGRA | GAO Report

Pombo IGRA Bill:
To amend section 20 of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to restrict off-reservation gaming (H.R.4893)

McCain IGRA Bill:
Indian Gaming Regulatory Act Amendments of 2005 (S.2078)

Relevant Links:
Senate Indian Affairs Committee -
NIGC Indian Land Determinations -
National Indian Gaming Association -