California Violates IGRA With Environmental Rules On Tribal Casinos

According to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, California violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The state required environmental concessions from Native American Tribes during negotiations to renew their contract with nearly 30 pages of environmental regulations and changes to family law and tort law to operate the casinos in the “Las Vegas style.” On Thursday, the Circuit Court of Appeals.

California wanted the tribes to comply with its environmental agenda as outlined in the California Environmental Quality Act as part of the concession it is proposing. Additionally, the concession will grant “an apparent veto” to the state and other government organizations over each tribal initiative.

“Through its negotiating demands, California effectively sought to use the (casino) contracting process as leverage to impose its general policy objectives on the tribes, which a state may not do,” Daniel Bress, the circuit judge, in a statement.

Les Marston of Rapport and Marston, a representative of the Chicken Ranch Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians and the other four tribes, said in a statement that the decision made by the tribes is “a literal game changer” and is illustrative of the true interpretation and application of the Gaming Compacts in the IGRA provision, which Congress passed in 1988.

The gaming compact itself stipulates that governments must negotiate with tribes to allow them to offer gaming in the style of a Las Vegas casino in good faith.

The “catch-all” provision

However, the provision is somewhat brief since Congress chose to make a “catch-all” provision under its seven categories rather than a more in-depth provision relating to the operations of the gaming activities.

The “catch-all” term in the provision is therefore being utilized as the foundation for the implementation of the planned environmental policy towards the casino tribes, with the justification that it has no direct influence on the operations of the business.

The Hopland Band of Pomo Indians, Chicken Ranch Rancheria, Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, Blue Lake Rancheria, Robinson Rancheria, and other tribes are registered to hold the gaming compacts provision until December 2023. The renewal for this provision was canceled in 2019, despite the fact that the discussion had been ongoing since 2014. Consequently, the tribes sued the state.

The tribes filed a lawsuit against the state in 2019 alleging that it had broken its obligation to negotiate in good faith under the IGRA. The district court supported the lawsuit, which claimed that the provisions were “at the very edge of relevance” for the gaming industry and required the state to make “meaningful concessions” in exchange for the provision.

Although the parties reached agreements on a number of issues during these negotiations, it was claimed that other issues were contentious. For instance, the spousal and child support provision was requested to be implemented in the tribal gaming facility for its employees, necessitating the tribes’ enforcement of this provision.

Bress and Circuit Judge Kim McLane said that even while the judge ruled that the state did not give any concession and was knowingly in violation of the IGRA’s gaming compacts agreement, the unconstitutional environmental demand could not be remedied by granting the tribes concession.

In the federal appeals case, Judge Bumatay expressed his disagreement, arguing that by enforcing its provisions for family, environmental, and tort law, California as a state had gone beyond the IGRA’s agreement.