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Guest Series on Tribal Gaming (Part 7)

Today, we have the final installment of Jim Marino’s series on Indian casino gaming in California (originally published in the Santa Ynez Valley Journal).  If you’ve been following the series, you’ve seen Marino build a case for the inherent problems of tribal gaming–from its end-run around initial state opposition to the damage it can cause a community or local economy.  But perhaps you thought that the federal government would catch any truly serious abuses of the system–especially considering the power of the BIA to regulate tribal gaming in the US.  Not so fast.  As Marino lays out below, the federal government is often unwilling or unable to regulate Indian gaming–a point to ponder for anyone who puts their trust in the compromises and limits outlined by the Akaka Bill when it comes to regulation of a new Native Hawaiian government.

Santa Ynez Valley Journal
By Jim Marino, Guest Columnist
May 27, 2010

(Part 7)

This is the concluding article in a series of articles on Indian gambling casinos in California. In recognition of the ten-year anniversary of the legalization of some of the Indian gambling in California, I thought it was an opportune time to talk about its origins, the failures and inadequacy of Congress in enacting the Indian Gaming and Regulatory Act in 1988, and the political process and corruption involved in the negotiation and execution of the 59 original compacts, negotiated in California by now deposed governor Gray Davis who received massive contributions for his 1998 election from the illegal Indian casinos operating here before March 2000.

Once Indian gambling was introduced into California I went on to discuss the impacts on communities where they are located and some of the irony of tiny recognized “tribes” of one or two people, or perhaps a handful of members, often tracing only fractional descent [if any] to a real California Native Indian Band and claiming they were sovereign governments because they have been “recognized” by bureaucrats in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. These tiny “sovereign governments” pay no taxes and provide no services or infrastructure to their “tribe”. Rather they depend on the public services and infrastructure paid for by non-Indian taxpayers and the federal government for their welfare.

I discussed how these claims of “sovereignty” were not only used to evade paying the taxes needed to fund local public services and infrastructure, but also used to evade all the many laws enacted for the protection of the public, customers in Indian casinos and businesses, their workers and the environment and quality of life in the host communities.

I discussed the false economy of Indian gambling casinos that promise “jobs” and claim to be a destination “resort” bringing in tourist dollars when, in actuality these are unprotected, transient and generally low paying “jobs” that are created. This job creation is far-outweighed by the fact that the many gamblers losing money at an Indian casino, come from nearby communities where they are not spending those discretionary dollars in non-Indian businesses. These nearby non-Indian businesses often cannot compete with an Indian casino or business that pays no taxes, operates above the laws and which cannot be sued by customers, workers (or anyone else) for their misdeeds because of an outdated court-created legal doctrine giving Indian tribes, their casinos, businesses, agents and employees complete immunity from lawsuit no matter how outrageous their actions or conduct may be.

That in addition to siphoning millions of dollars in discretionary money from gamblers drawn to these casinos from nearby communities these patrons are gambling with money they often cannot afford to lose. That produces increases in crimes of theft, robbery and embezzlement, divorce and family neglect, financial problems, foreclosures and bankruptcies, gambling addictions, substance abuse, even increased suicides that are an inevitable result of the introduction of Indian casino gambling.

I quoted Warren Buffet who astutely pointed out a few years ago that there has always been gambling activities. The problem with Indian gambling casinos is that they have made gambling much more convenient so those losing vast amounts of money do not have to travel great distances to places like Las Vegas to do so.

Finally I discussed the inherent corruption and decay in the political and moral fiber that arises with Indian gambling casinos and which is virtually impossible to measure the negative impacts of that in dollars and cents and which is equally difficult to detect because addicts, corrupt politicians and drug and alcohol abusers rarely admit to such things like gambling away food and rent money or stealing money to gamble more. I knew a foreign car dealer in this area years ago (now deceased). A client and friend who had accumulated a comfortable retirement nest egg, only to lose it all at the Chumash casino. He was a proud man who never admitted to his gambling addiction. Within the past year alone several embezzlers have admitted to stealing thousands of dollars from local employers in this area to fuel their gambling habits at the Chumash casino. Even a reported armed robber arrested in Oxnard admitted to robbery in order to have money to gamble in Indian casinos including the Chumash casino.

In last week’s article I discussed the pervasive undue influence, insidious corruption and political pay-offs inherent with Indian gambling casinos and the avarice of Sacramento politicians ready and willing to accept those gambling dollars, much of which is paid quietly and secretly, funneled and laundered through Political Action Committees and political party channels. Some received in the form of perks, free concert and sports tickets, free chips, spa treatments and free rooms as set out in a recent Los Angeles Times story about the failure of 27 California legislators to report these Indian casino “gifts.”

Besides the failure to enact enough effective laws to control and regulate Indian gambling this concluding article discusses the failure of federal, state and local government to take any meaningful steps to curtail the improper and illegal activities occurring within casino tribes in the course of the daily operations. This is true even where there are enforceable laws, thereby rendering Indian casinos operations virtually lawless.

Here I will pick up where I left off last week. Section 2710(2)(B) of the Indian Gaming and Regulatory Act of 1988 spells out the only five categories where the net proceeds of Indian gambling casinos can be spent. They are:

(i) To fund tribal government operations or programs

(ii) To provide for the general welfare of the Indian tribe and its members

(iii) To promote tribal economic development

(iv) To donate to charitable organizations; or

(v) To help fund operation of local government agencies.

As I related in the last article, the Louisiana Coushetta and the Mississippi Choctaws gave now imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his sidekick Michael Scanlon some $85 million dollars to “distribute” to various politicians in Washington D.C. to block the Alabama Coushetta and Texas Tigua tribes from opening a casino nearby that would have competed with their casinos. Besides participating in what amounts to these fairly obvious bribery attempts, where could any Indian tribe justify a scheme like that into any of the five exclusive statutory categories of 2710(2)(B) set out above? Nothing was done to the tribal officials, their lawyers and advisors for this scheme but Abramoff wound up in prison. The whole thing was spun as “overbilling” to the tribal governments by Abramoff and Scanlon. Ultimately the identity of the many recipients of this money was concealed and buried in a perfunctory “investigation” conducted by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Three years ago Butch Crawford from Plymouth California and I met with the solicitors for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in their Washington offices. He presented the investigators with a copy of an application for more than $900,000 in grants monies for claimed improvements to be made to Indian fee lands in Amador County. Those lands were actually owned by a group of individual Miwok Indians from the same tribe but a different faction of the tribe. The application had been submitted by the newly elected tribal chairman who was at the time, the spokesperson for the other break away dissident group or faction of the same tribe. The original smaller faction consisting of these individuals and families actually owned the 40-acre parcel of land in fee divided amongst them individually. It was not reservation or trust lands it was privately owned. The $900,000 grant application was submitted by the larger dissident faction of the tribe. Those members owned no land at all, yet the application they submitted was for a grant for “physical improvements to tribal land.” At or about the same time this dissident faction, now constituting the majority of tribal members, was desirous of building a gambling casino. To facilitate that effort they made application to the B.I.A. to bring land near Plymouth Cal., [on which they held an option], into federal trust status to render it eligible for gambling operations. To fit into one of the exceptions allowing gambling on lands acquired by an Indian tribe after 1988 they asserted in that application that they were entitled to do so under the IGRA exception allowing for gambling on land acquired by a tribe after 1988, if they were a “landless” tribe. So for purposes of obtaining a large federal grant for “improvements” on non-existent tribal land, they succeeded in obtaining nearly a million dollars in federal grant money. At the same time and for purposes of trying to qualify to bring the Plymouth land into trust for a gambling casino they stated in their federal application they were landless! The investigative lawyers we spoke with at B.I.A. were not interested in how a group of Indians received a $900,000 grant for land improvements at the same time they applied to buy land and bring it into trust under a legal exception only available for tribes that had no land! The response of the B.I.A. investigative lawyers was that half their 60 or so investigators were still working on the Abramoff case and they didn’t have the manpower or time. This in the face of the fact the Abramoff case had already been concluded and nothing has happened in that case in the three years since that meeting.

In another more local instance, we had a meeting with an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation concerning the use of casino credit cards by Chumash government officials. Records indicated charges had been made, among other things, for a $10,000 “diamond ring, breast implants, a funeral,” luxury travel and other clearly inappropriate charges that were made, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars.

He informed us that unless it involved a theft of over $75,000 they would not even open a case file. I pointed out that if a robber went into a bank, pulled a gun and robbed the teller of $1,500 they would put 5 agents on the case and if it happened a few more times that same robber would make the 10 most wanted list. Nothing was ever done by the F.B.I. or anyone else about these improper credit card charges.

The current Chumash tribal chairman Vince Armenta went into the casino a few years ago and sat at a blackjack table with his son and some friends. He demanded chips from the dealer for he and his friends to play “on the house.” When the dealer offered only some one dollar and five dollar chips, he demanded “the greenies” [$25 chips], this was done despite the fact these actions would normally constitute a federal felony under Title 18 entitled “theft from an Indian tribe.” When angry tribal members reported this incident to the National Indian Gaming Commission (N.I.G.C.) investigator in Sacramento he said it was up to the tribal Gaming Committee to deal with it and basically shined the incident off. That tribal gaming committee was chaired at the time by the tribal Chairman’s brother, Raul Armenta and the committee later suspended the blackjack dealer for a week.

On another occasion, the cardroom manager at the time, Tony Armenta, was instructing a gambler who had won over $10,000 dollars playing blackjack, how he could avoid the reporting requirements for any cash transaction over $10,000, required by the United States Banking Act. He informed him he could do so by splitting the winnings with his girlfriend, bringing them below the $10,000 threshold, the casino security officer, called to the cardroom at the time, informed Mr. Armenta that was illegal. When nothing was done that same officer, a former police sergeant, reported the incident to the I.R.S. The agent did nothing except inform the Chumash tribal government, who then disciplined the security officer for reporting this incident to the I.R.S.

Even now when drug trafficking at the Chumash casino is rampant, the County Sheriff is doing little about it, although federal law provides that local and state law enforcement authorities have jurisdiction over all crimes committed on Indian lands. It is the Sheriff’s duty to police all Indian lands, not the security guards employed by the tribe. A few years ago the N.I.G.C. had promulgated a set of rules called the Minimum Internal Control Standards [M.I.C.S.]. The Colorado River Indian tribes filed suit and challenged these rules on the grounds the I.G.R.A. gave no authority to the N.I.G.C. to police class III, full scale casino gambling. Their jurisdiction only extended to the licensing of class II Bingo halls. The 10th Circuit agreed and those M.I.C.S. were held unenforceable.

The only authority left to enforce any rules and regulations other than criminal laws, was through the tribal state compacts. In California this has proven to be a standing joke. Neither the Governor, the Attorney General, or the inept and ineffective State Gambling Control Commission [which at last report had only 3 investigators], has ever done anything. Nor have effective rules been adopted or any enforcement of the compacts been undertaken by any state or federal agency.

A few years ago I testified in front of that Gambling Control Commission at the request of Cheryl Schmit [Stand Up for California] concerning a number of illegal and questionable practices occurring at Indian casinos including the Chumash casino. During a recess the Commission chairman and legal counsel, Herb Boltz, approached me and asked that I document the incidents testified to and send it to him, which I did in a 12-page letter complete with several exhibits and attachments. I did that within a week of that hearing. I never heard another word, not even a thank you for the effort.

Not long ago the Chumash casino brought in a roulette wheel. This is a clear violation of state law because Art. 4 section 19 of the amended Constitution only authorizes slot machines and house-banked card games conducted by Indian tribes by compact and on Indian lands. Use of roulette wheels are also a violation of the compact. One local group took a picture of it and sent it with a letter demanding enforcement of the law to the Gambling Control Commission. After several unanswered letters the State Gambling Control Commission finally wrote a letter to the Chumash tribal government that December, telling them they would be down to inspect the casino in March and suggested they remove the illegal roulette wheel before then.

Several tribes, apparently aware no enforcement action would ever be taken by their friends in Sacramento, brought in craps tables. Craps games are also illegal for the same reasons as roulette. The offending tribes asserted, apparently to the satisfaction of state regulators, that it really wasn’t craps after all because instead of rolling dice on the craps table they had two stacks of six cards each numbered 1 through 6 and the player would turn over one card from each stack constituting the numbers “rolled.”

At a meeting two years ago with George Skibine in Washington D.C. [at the time he was head of Indian Gaming at the B.I.A.] he is now acting commissioner of the N.I.G.C. We discussed a number of issues concerning illegal activities occurring in Indian casinos including tribes operating gambling casinos on ineligible lands. In the course of the discussion he postulated the following incredible and illogical policy which probably best explains why the federal government is doing nothing about all of the illegal activities involved in Indian casino gambling.

Chairman Skibine said this: Our [meaning the N.I.G.C. and B.I.A. and Department of Interior] authority and jurisdiction over Indian gaming comes from the Indian Gaming and Regulatory Act. If any Indian tribe is operating a gaming facility that is not on eligible Indian lands or otherwise not complying with federal gaming laws then it is outside of the provisions of the I.G.R.A. which requires such gambling to be on eligible Indian land in order to be authorized and sanctioned by that Act.

Therefore it is beyond our authority and jurisdiction to do anything about it because if it is outside of the Act it is outside of our jurisdiction. If Indian gaming not being conducted on eligible “Indian Lands” pursuant to the I.G.R.A. then it is up to the State in which it is occurring to enforce State laws against illegal gambling, if that gambling activity is against that state’s laws. This “hot potato” game is thus played when the state claims that enforcement is the responsibility of these federal agencies. The federal government then says it is the responsibility of the state or, as in the Armenta blackjack case, claim that it is a matter for the tribal government to resolve.

Likewise local law enforcement often passes the buck to the state or federal government, who passes the buck back to the state or perhaps to the tribal government. So the answer to the original question, why no one is enforcing the laws that do apply and which are enforceable, it is because no one is willing to do so.

The reasons they are not willing to do so are complex but generally fall into a few recognizable categories. The first is that it is politically incorrect and unpopular to take any action against “Indians” even if they are not really Indians at all, because the public has been indoctrinated about historic injustices to “Indians” centuries ago. Politicians don’t want to evoke the “race card.” The second reason is political corruption plain and simple. The casino Indians are funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into the pockets of politicians and the bureaucrats who are responsible to regulate and police these tribal casinos and businesses and they are routinely ignoring numerous violations. The third reason is that many of the federal laws are poorly written, lack adequate specific enforcement provisions and directions and the tribal-state compacts that are in place are also poorly written. Even where they contain enforceable provisions, they are never enforced, like the 59 Gray Davis compacts in California. The last reason is that many of the federal agencies that should be taking enforcement actions in these areas are dominated by Indians, or part Indians, even wannabe Indians, or those who are simply “enrolled” members of some tribe someplace, and they ignore the law, stonewall inquiries and investigations, and exercise biased interpretations of the laws and rules that they have been given wide discretion over by enabling statutes, thereby thwarting any effective enforcement. As I mentioned in a previous article, where one would expect the media to expose this scandalous scenario, they don’t and they have haven’t done so, because they are afraid of offending their biggest and most profitable advertisers, Indian gambling casinos.

This concludes the series on Indian gambling in California, meant to be educational, because the more people who know and understand what has happened and is still happening, the more likely people will call for positive changes and perhaps elect ethical and responsible representatives and not politicians or corrupt bureaucrats holding out their hand for casino cash and perks to get elected or re-elected or appointed to the offices that they are supposed to hold to protect and fairly and impartially serve the 38 million people of California.

Guest Series on Tribal Gaming (Part 6)

Today, our sixth installment of Jim Marino’s series of articles on tribal casino gaming in California (originally published in the Santa Ynez Valley Journal) looks at the corruption in California that followed the explosion of Indian casinos.  “Tribes” of one person . . . lobbying slush funds . . . it’s all there, proving that money, politics, gaming, and corruption are natural bedfellows.  Those who oppose the introduction of casino gaming to their communities are often wrongly characterized as puritans.  True, opposition to gambling may be a factor for some, but there’s so much more to the issue than just the issue of gambling.  As this article makes clear, no one should walk blindly into creating Indian gaming in their community without knowing more about the social impact of it–from crime rates to the powerful influence of gaming profits on local government.  It’s something to keep in mind as we consider the far reaching implications of the Akaka Bill.  (And recall that–even though the current version of the Bill does not allow for Native Hawaiian casinos, there was a time when such casinos weren’t permitted in California too.)

Santa Ynez Valley Journal
By Jim Marino, Guest Columnist
May 20, 2010

(Part 6)

In a 5-part series, I outlined what led up to the advent of the Indian Gaming and Regulatory Act of 1988. How Congress engaged in a feeble attempt to wean Indian tribes from total federal dependence and at the same time clarify the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Cabazon Tribe versus California. How Congress completely failed to take into account the complex and confusing body of Indian law, including the court-created doctrine of Indian tribal immunity from lawsuit.

Then I discussed the tortured history of how Indian gambling found its way into California illegally and the attempts to legalize it by corrupt politicians and Gov. Gray Davis, who executed 59 tribal-state compacts for casinos with several tiny bands of questionable Indian descent, and who had no legally eligible lands on which to build and operate a gambling casino and even allow questionable “tribes” to purchase land near perceived gambling markets in a practice that came to be known as “reservation shopping.”

These often ridiculous policies and events led to the rapid expansion of Indian gambling casinos all over California being thrust into many communities who didn’t want them and which provided no benefit despite the creation of “jobs.” That was because of the many negative impacts of such a casino and the demands placed on public services and infrastructure, which the Indian casinos and businesses used regularly while paying no taxes.

This continuing article is to demonstrate how pervasive the corruption from Indian gambling dollars has become. Although there are many examples, this limited space only allows for the recounting of some of the typical and more outrageous examples of it.

As set out in the earlier series, Gov. Davis owed his election to the massive contributions from Indian casinos operating illegally in California at the time and the massive campaign instituted by those tribes, many of which had only a handful of members, and fractional and often questionable claims to being “Indian” at all. A campaign to enact a tribal initiative to amend the California Government Code known as Proposition 5 was circulated in an attempt to legalize the illegal Indian gambling casinos operating in California at the time.

To repay this largesse, once elected, Gov. Davis negotiated 59 tribal-state compacts through the summer of 1999 with these illegal existing casino tribes and many other questionable groups, several with no eligible land upon which gambling would be allowed under federal law. These compacts had been negotiated behind closed doors under the authority of Proposition 5 enacted in November 1998 at the same time Davis was elected.

These secretive negotiations took place behind closed doors, away from all of the major public forces that usually shape laws, such as city and county governments, unions, law enforcement, women’s rights groups, environmental protection groups, local and consumer rights groups and lawyers’ organizations. Even though the California Supreme Court had struck down Proposition 5 in August 1999, undaunted, Gov. Davis executed these give-away “sweetheart” compacts in September 1999 and had the democratically controlled legislature approve them in October 1999. To overcome the fact there was no statutory authority to execute and approve those compacts after the August 1999 Supreme Court decision, Gov. Davis and the Legislature put a “legislative initiative” on the March 2000 ballot called Proposition 1A. Although this initiative amended the State Constitution to authorize the Governor to negotiate future tribal-state compacts, it was, in effect, an initiative designed to retroactively ratify the 59 compacts signed earlier without lawful authority and without informing the voters.

As if this corrupted set of events was not enough, it was but the opening bell in a bruising round of corrupt practices that followed at both the state and federal level.

Proposition 1A established two funds: The Revenue Sharing Trust Fund and the Special Distribution Fund. The former was a fund established by the state into which those tribes with casinos would pay money. That fund would then make annual payments to “Indian tribes” in California that did not have casinos, or had casinos with fewer than 300 slot machines. Each “tribe” would receive an annual distribution of $1,100,000 over and above the hundreds of thousands they receive in federal welfare and grant monies.

Some of these “tribes” had only one or two members, like the Valley Miwoks and the Buena Vista MeWuks and Mary Ann Martin’s Augustine Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians. She was the only member of that “tribe” and not only entitled to receive a $1.1 million dollar distribution but also hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in federal welfare and grant money for “tribal government,” “tribal economic development,” “tribal housing,” and so forth. Many other bands or tribes had perhaps a handful of members.

The first thing that happened once Indian gambling became openly legal was that these casino tribes began contributing monies large and small to various politicians at the state and local level.

Many of you may recall how Jack Abramoff, the now imprisoned and disgraced lobbyist, got $80 million from one “poor” Indian tribe in Alabama with orders to spread it around Washington politicians, in order to block another Indian tribe’s attempt to open a competing casino. When the scandal finally broke, the Indian tribal governments and liberal media castigated Abramoff and his partner Scanlon for his activities, but carefully concealed the fact it was the Indian tribal governments, lawyers and lobbyists that furnished the tribal ‘pay-off” monies and that Abramoff was just the bag man delivering the tribal gambling monies to the many corrupt politicians he knew and who willingly took it.

One tribal government operating a gambling casino near Palm Springs gave Abramoff $10 million and then later refused to disclose what it was for, even to the tribal membership. State Senator Jim Battin from Palm Springs received tens of thousands of dollars in Indian casino contributions deposited into committees mostly called “The Friends of Jim Battin.” These committees were very generous in handing out tens of thousands of those casino dollars to other Sacramento politicians, lending a new meaning to the expression “it pays to have friends.” When he finally got in trouble with the state F.P.P.C. and they filed complaints against him, he and these Indian casinos set up the “Jim Battin Defense Fund.”

Senator Battin, (now termed out), was a champion of Indian gambling causes of all kinds. A year or two ago, the former chairman of the Indian Gaming Commission, Phillip Hogen, had been trying to change the federal rules defining more clearly what a slot machine was. Casino Indians and slot machine manufacturers had designed machines they called Bingo machines. Bingo under the IGRA is a class II gambling game that can be operated by a tribe without needing a tribal-state compact. Such a tribal-state compact is required for class III casino gambling, including the use of slot machines.

The compact requirement is the only way states can require tribes to pay money for all of the public services and infrastructure they use at the taxpayers’ expense. The compacts are also the way states can impose rules and regulations on gambling tribes. Commissioner Hogen had been trying to change the rules for years and reclassify these “Bingo machines” as facsimile slot machines subject to state control and the tribal-state compact requirements.

Sen. Battin wrote a letter, at the time, to Commissioner Hogen urging him not to change the rule, and he had 20 other Senators sign it. So, here we have fully one-half of our state’s Senators opposing a federal rule change that would be a direct benefit to the State of California, the state that they are supposed to be representing.

As I wrote in an article last year for this Valley Journal titled “Pay to Play,” this Indian casino corruption is rampant. Locally the Chumash and other tribes pushed for a bill early on in the gambling casino saga. They urged adoption of a bill in the Legislature that required local communities to come hat in hand for monies from the special distribution fund that were paid into it by gambling tribes. This money was originally intended to mitigate the negative impacts of casinos on local communities. That bill established local committees, controlled by the very Indian tribes causing the negative impacts who would then either approve or disprove any requests for grants by local governments to be made from the monies that were originally in that fund to mitigate those impacts.

On another occasion when the IRS refused to allow Indian tribes to issue tax-free bonds for gambling casino construction, arguing that such bonds were for public works projects, the tribes went to their friends in Sacramento – and introduced a bill to have the State of California issue tax-free bonds on their behalf.

When the gambling tribes wanted to eliminate any competition, they went to Sacramento again and had a bill introduced to place a long moratorium on the issuance of any more private non-Indian card room licenses that is still in effect. In fact, they just got their buddies in the Legislature to extend it.

When they wanted to eliminate competition from charities conducting Bingo games for charitable purposes, they got their Legislative friends to pass a bill banning the use of these Bingo machines by charities. You remember, the same machines they argued to the federal government were not slot machines at all, but then when they wanted to block their use by charities in California, they claimed that the state should not allow this use because it infringed on their exclusive right to operate “slot machines,” as provided for in the tribal-state compacts and in Art. 4, section 19 of the State Constitution.

Even locally, you may recall, when the Chumash wanted to rename San Marcos Pass/Highway 154 “The Chumash Highway,” they went to another friend of the Indian casino tribes, Assemblyman Coto, who has taken thousand of dollars from casino tribes and is now doing so for a run for the State Senate. Assemblyman Coto represents a San Jose District some 300 miles from here.

After receiving a generous political contribution of several thousand dollars from the Chumash, he introduced a resolution to rename Highway 154 as the Chumash Highway.

This was done without any local notice or knowledge and/or a resolution from the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, which resolution was required by a section of the California Streets and Highways Code. It was then shepherded quietly through the legislature by a number of elected officials in record time, many of whom had received thousands of dollars from the Chumash and tens of thousands from other casino tribes. The community only learned of the resolution when the tribe issued a press release after the fact.

In another recent episode of attempted corrupt influence, in order to further their ambitious acquisition and development plans, the Chumash gave State Sen. Florez a $15,000 “contribution,” and within a month or two he introduced a bill to relieve the Chumash (and ostensibly other Indian tribes) from complying with the limitations contained in the Williamson Preservation Act, apparently knowing they were going to purchase the 1,400-acre former Fess Parker property and other properties still restricted by Williamson Act limitations. Fortunately, that bill was soundly rejected by the Local Government Affairs Committee, with the chairman, State Sen. Cox stating, “You wouldn’t be here, Sen. Florez, if it wasn’t for the Chumash.”

This corruption from gambling dollars is bi-partisan. Two years ago, when four tribes wanted to expand the number of slot machines in their casinos, they not only spent well over $70 million promoting the amended compacts on the statewide ballot, they also gave the State Republican party $5 million. Not coincidentally, the Republican Party then spent about the same amount of money supporting those ballot propositions which were numbered 34-38 and ultimately were approved.

In addition, Indian casino tribes spent more than 35 million to oppose race track efforts to obtain slot machines at their tracks in propositions 93-95 on the ballot in that same election. Such slot machines would have competed with tribal casinos, having exclusive rights to have slot machines.

What is perhaps the most ironic, if not astounding aspect of all this corruption from these Indian gambling casinos and their political contributions, is the fact that these political pay-offs are not legal by federal law. Title 25 section 2710 of the I.G.R.A. provides as follows:

2710(2)(B) net revenues from any tribal gaming are not to be used for purposes other than –

(i) To fund tribal government operations or programs

(ii) To provide for the general welfare of the Indian tribe and its members

(iii) To promote tribal economic development

(iv) To donate to charitable organizations; or

(v) To help fund operation of local government agencies.

The obvious question is into which one of these categories could political contributions and pay-offs possibly fit? How, for example, could an Indian tribe justify putting money into a fund, like the Jim Battin Defense Fund, whose purpose is to defend a politician from state allegations of illegal acts and practices constituting violations of the Fair Political Practices laws?

When I put that very question to former Chairman of the NIGC Phillip Hogen, he could not answer it. That is most likely because such contributions do not fit into any one of these five categories of permissible uses.

That brings me to the last point and that is, where are the provisions to enforce the federal laws and state laws that should be regulating Indian gambling casinos but are not? I thought I could conclude this series in 5 installments but that has proven impossible.

So next time, the final installment: “Why no one enforces the laws intended to limit and regulate Indian gambling.”

Guest Series on Tribal Gaming (Part 1)

A big part of the debate over the Akaka Bill has revolved around exactly what rights and privileges will belong to the new Native Hawaiian “tribe” following reorganization, and with the issue of casino gaming and gambling long holding a contentious place in Hawaiian politics, it was inevitable that the proposed bill would have to address the issue .  Some believe that the prohibition on gaming in the Akaka Bill is sufficient to put the matter to rest, while others (including this blog) have pointed out that the language of the bill may not be the final word on the matter–especially with so much money at stake.

Under the circumstances, I thought it would be interesting to look at the history of the development of Indian gaming in another context (namely, California), and am therefore happy to introduce the first part in a series of guest columns by Jim Marino, an attorney from Santa Barbara who is an expert on the issue.  These columns were originally published earlier this year  in the Santa Ynez Valley Journal, and manage the rare feat of being both interesting and educational.  Enjoy:

Santa Ynez Valley Journal
By Jim Marino, Guest Columnist
April 15, 2010

(Part 1)

It has been almost 10 years exactly since Indian casino gambling was legalized in California. Very few people know the history of Indian gambling casinos in California so this is a good time to review that history. I will do this is a five-part series covering the origin of Indian gambling in California up to the present time.

As public attitudes loosened toward gambling in general, many states began to expand legalized gambling. Betting on horse racing at race tracks had long been permitted. The only limitation was the use “bookies” or other off-track intermediaries to place bets, collect and pay off bets made on horses. Many cities also had a thriving underground “lottery” system usually called the “numbers rackets.”

People picked numbers and made a bet, the numbers were then selected often by using the winning numbers of horses running in certain races at a particular race track. Similarly, though probably illegal, Saturday night “penny ante” poker games were commonplace everywhere, and in some communities people engaged in shooting “craps” – a form of gambling using dice. Although many of these gambling activities were illegal, law enforcement placed very low priority on raiding illegal off-track bookie operations, or the “poor man’s lottery,” the numbers rackets, or Saturday evening poker games played for money usually occurring between friends and for relatively small amounts of money.

Then there were the full-on legal casino gambling venues which were limited to Nevada, Atlantic City, New Jersey and cruise lines and riverboats, where the full range of gambling games were allowed. These included slot machines, roulette, craps, blackjack and other house-banked card games pitting the gamblers playing those games against the house and not each other.

As attitudes toward gambling changed and more and more people saw these many forms of gambling as harmless, state and local governments took a second look at their laws strictly prohibiting most gambling games. Soon many states had state-run lotteries and allowed poker rooms or card clubs and even legalized off-track betting on horse races. Taking it a step further, many states allowed charitable groups to hold Bingo games for money, but licensed them and limited the amounts of money one could play and win and the hours and conditions of operation.

Meanwhile, the federal government had been trying for decades to find a way for the real historic Indian tribes to become self-sufficient and sustainable and doing so without eliminating the Indian tribal reservation system, which for decades had blocked the integration of Indians into mainstream America, particularly the mainstream of American economy.

Many tribes and particularly tribal governments resisted any change or attempts at assimilation, which they considered a threat to their tribe’s cultural preservation and a threat to the fiction that Indian tribes and their governments were “sovereign nations” notwithstanding the nearly total dependency of most tribes on the federal government.

Many of the 600 or so recognized tribes had only a handful of members and little land base. As Tim Giago, a noted Lakota Sioux writer, once wrote in an editorial, “Indians don’t need more welfare, they need a welfare to work program.”

Congress passed many laws in the struggle to improve a lot of reservation Indians and eliminate the massive bureaucracy that had been established, called the Bureau of Indian Affairs (B.I.A.), and its even bigger parent, the Department of Interior (D.O.I.).

Congress was loathe to eliminate the inherent separation and isolation created by the tribal reservation system. In most cases these federal laws and programs were ineffective. The real historic tribes of Indians often saw those assimilation efforts as an attempt to extinguish their respective cultures or impinge on what they considered to be a “sovereign status.”

Beginning during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Indian tribes in Florida and other states began offering Bingo for money as a tribal business and method of earning money.

Not long after those efforts began the tiny Cabazon Indian tribe located near Palm Springs asserted the right to offer Bingo games for money, and without any limitation on the amounts of money, conditions and hours of operation that applied to groups under California charitable Bingo laws. They also wanted to open a card club like those being operated under State and local licensing, but without the regulations imposed by the California Gambling Control Board and local jurisdictions. California refused to allow these Bingo games and card clubs, because the State feared it could not control such activities when it was occurring on Indian reservation lands.

A lawsuit entitled Cabazon Tribe v. California (Governor Wilson) was commenced and finally wound its way through the system and wound up before the United States Supreme Court in 1987. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court divided California gambling games into two groups: Those games that were illegal and prohibited by everyone, everywhere in the state and those that were permitted like charitable Bingo, horse racing and card clubs. The court concluded that Indian tribes in California were entitled to operate Bingo, card games and other forms of gambling that were permitted to other non-Indians within the state.

They further concluded that because Indian tribes had historically been accorded a measure of self-government and control of their governmental affairs on their reservation lands, then when operating these permitted games they could regulate these games on their own – setting the rules and limits of play for themselves and need not follow California’s limitations.

On the other hand, the Court made it clear all gambling games that were prohibited to everyone within the State of California as a matter of strong public policy were likewise prohibited on any Indian reservations within the borders of California.

This was a fairly straightforward decision; however, it was poorly understood by many state and local governments all over the country, many of which thought this decision would open the floodgates of gambling in their respective states.

Consequently Congress moved quickly in what they thought would clarify the Cabazon case, and in October 1988 they enacted the Indian Gaming and Regulatory Act [the IGRA] 25 USC 2701 et.seq.

This Act divided Indian Gambling games into three groups: Class I was any traditional Indian games played amongst tribal members. Class II was Bingo or similar traditional games played on a card by marking a number of letters as they were randomly selected and called out or posted. These games were licensed and regulated by the National Indian Gaming Commission also created by the I.G.R.A. Class III gaming was the full-on casino style gambling like slot machines, “craps,” roulette, blackjack and other “house-banked” games where the players are playing against the house and not against each other. To be entitled to engage in Class III gambling games, the Indian tribe must have a tribal-state compact approved by the state and lawfully in effect under state law. As it later turned out, this federal law created more problems than it resolved.

Next time: The Indian Gaming and Regulatory Act, an example of a well-intended law gone awry.