BY MALIA HILL – 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:

HISTORY AND IMPACTS OF INDIAN GAMING IN CALIFORNIA
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.

Malia Blom Hill is a senior fellow with the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

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