Prop. 48 Defeat Doesn’t End Off-Reservation Casinos

The voters have spoken in California about their opposition to so-called “reservation shopping.” But that may mean next to nothing when it comes to whether the practice will continue in California—and elsewhere.

Although the voters of California emphatically rejected the idea of off-reservation casinos in the Golden State on November 4, the practice by the federal government of putting land into trust for tribes whose reservations are remote and unsuitable for gaming doesn’t seem likely to end soon.

Sixty percent of voters rejected the gaming compact between California and the North Fork Rancheria Band of Mono Indians. The band was outspent by rival casinos, such as the Table Mountain Rancheria, more than 20 to one. 

In Arizona, the Tohono O’odham tribe has broken ground for a casino in Glendale, near Phoenix, despite strong opposition form neighboring tribes and the city of Glendale. The tribe’s original reservation is located 160 miles away, although it is under water due to a federal dam project. The land near Glendale was purchased with a settlement that resulted from that project.

Despite winning every court challenge to their casino, the tribe is squarely in the sights of both of Arizona’s U.S. Senators, include John McCain, author of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. McCain wants to overturn the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ action in putting the Glendale land into trust.

The Obama Administration has taken a relaxed attitude towards Indian trust applications compared to its predecessor. In fact, many Indians consider Obama their greatest friend ever.

Critics such as McCain contend that Obama is going far beyond the intention of federal laws that allow for putting land into trust.

At attorney who opposes “reservation shopping,” June DeHart, told CDC Gaming Reports, “It’s basically changing the law by executive action. Their goal is to provide more casinos to tribes, and if they have to approve off-reservation casinos to do it, then that’s what they will do.”

Alan Feldman, senior vice president of MGM Resorts International, commented, “We would characterize it as a circumventing of process, or even a loophole, especially as it relates to taking of lands into trust that are nowhere near the ancestral lands.”

Although California has more Indian casinos than any other state, the issue is not confined there. It’s alive in Michigan, and in Massachusetts and even in Wisconsin, where a tribe tried to get the right to build a casino in New York State and where the Menominee tribe seeks approval to build an off-reservation casino in Kenosha, 40 miles from its ancestral home.