Judge upholds Calif. tribal gaming compacts
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TUESDAY, JULY 30, 2002

Casino compacts with more than 60 California tribes do not violate the U.S. Constitution, a federal judge ruled on Monday.

Non-Indian card club owners and religious charities in the Bay Area sought to stop the expansion of gaming on the state's reservations. They charged that federal law gives tribes an racially-based advantage.

But U.S. District Judge David F. Levi rejected their challengers' main argument. Upholding the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), he said the casino agreements were valid.

"So long as the compacts are rationally related to Congress’ trust obligation to the tribes, the compacts will not be set aside on constitutional grounds," he wrote in a 97-page decision.

The ruling is a victory for tribes that spearheaded a multi-million dollar campaign to allow Class III, or casino-style gaming, on their lands. Known as Proposition 1A, the initiative was overwhelmingly approved by voters in March 2000.

"The court decision affirms the right of tribes as governments to offer gaming and found Proposition 1A to be consistent with federal gaming law," said Morongo Band of Mission Indians Maurice Lyons in a statement.

The plaintiffs in the case were less happy and said they planned an appeal to the 9th Circuit. Four card clubs -- Artichoke Joe's, California Grand Casino, Lucky Chances and Oaks Club Room -- and two charity groups that offer gaming in the Bay Area launched the challenge.

"Today's ruling is unfortunate, not just for the plaintiffs but for all Californians," said attorney Bo Links. "Even though voters were promised it wouldn't happen, Proposition 1A is being abused and Nevada-style casinos are sprouting up all over the state, including proposals to locate Indian casinos in our urban areas."

Despite upholding the compacts, the ruling could pose potential problems down the line. Third-party challenges to tribal agreements have been rejected in other courts but Levi said the plaintiffs had standing.

Levi, however, ruled that future negotiations with several tribes that don't have compacts could not be halted. The card clubs and charities are worried the Santa Rosa Band of Pomo Indians will open a casino that competes with their business.

The California Nations Indian Gaming Association, which argued the case be dismissed because the tribes weren't involved, said the ruling was a win for "self-reliance."

The defendants in the case included Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, California Gov. Gray Davis (R) and other federal and state officials.

Get the Decision:
Artichoke Joe's v. Norton (7/29)

Relevant Links:
California Nations Indian Gaming Association -

Related Stories:
Federal judge upholds Indian gaming law (7/29)
Group challenges California gaming (2/8)