California’s loss to two tribes leads to 30 years of Indian Gaming success
By Ernie Stevens Jr.
Feb. 25 marked one of the most significant milestones in not only the history of Indian gaming, but tribal sovereignty when the Cabazon and Morongo Bands of Mission Indians defended their sovereign rights to create economic opportunities on their reservations against attempts by California to impose state law on tribal lands.
In the 1987 California vs. Cabazon and Morongo decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Indian tribes retain the inherent sovereign authority to conduct gaming on tribal lands free of state interference. The court reasoned that Indian gaming is crucial to Indian self-determination and economic self-sufficiency, noting that gaming provides the sole source of governmental revenue and is the primary source of employment for many tribes. The court acknowledged that Indian gaming was an act of tribal self-determination that aligned with the then relatively recent federal policy supporting tribal governing authority.
Congress reacted to the Cabazon and Morongo decision by enacting the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) in 1988, after significant pressure from several states and the commercial gaming industry. However, the Supreme Court’s Cabazon and Morongo decision significantly improved the political position of tribal governments heading into development of the law.
IGRA is grounded on the fundamental principle acknowledged in the Cabazon and Morongo decision—sovereignty is neither delegated nor given to Indian tribes from Congress, but is instead inherent power that has never been extinguished. This principle guides determinations regarding the scope of tribal authority in general and when implementing and interpreting IGRA.
IGRA did not come from Indian Country, and many tribal leaders opposed the legislative proposals that became IGRA, in large part because of the state compact requirement. The act is far from perfect, and the U.S. Supreme Court has added to its imperfections over the years (most notably the 1996 Seminole Tribe vs. Florida decision).
Still, more than 240 tribal governments have embraced the law and made it work for their communities.
Today, we are the gaming professionals, we are the gaming managers, we set the professional standards, we are the teachers, we are the lawyers and advisors, and we are making Indian gaming the Indian Country success story that it is today.
When the Cabazon and Morongo decision was handed down, Indian gaming generated approximately $100 million in gross revenue. Now, it is nearly $30 billion.
In 2016 alone, Indian Gaming generated more than 300,000 direct American jobs, which more than doubles when indirect jobs are included. Net revenues from Indian gaming are supplementing vital tribal community programs, improving health care, educational opportunities, public safety and much more.
Reflecting on the economic prosperity since this historic decision, we must give credit to visionary tribal leaders who could foresee the benefits that gaming has brought to Indian country. The quality of life for many Native Americans in communities where gaming has been a success is markedly changed. We take pride in the creation of numerous job, career and life opportunities for our Indian people. In the truest of our cultural values, neighboring communities are also benefitting.
There continues to be a great deal of work as it pertains to tribes who do not have locations that are conducive for gaming. Successful gaming tribes also are trying to find ways to further economic development with non-gaming tribes. We are hopeful that the new administration’s focus on infrastructure development will further enhance economic development in Indian Country with and beyond gaming.
My congratulations go out to the leadership of the Cabazon and Morongo Bands. Their legal fight on behalf of Indian country was a defining moment. We honor their vision and the historic Supreme Court victory they achieved for all of Indian Country. From the seeds that they planted more than 30 years ago today, we have responsibly grown into a $30 billion industry that is working to bring opportunity and self-determination to more than 240 Native Nations and their citizens. ♦