Secretary Haaland Approves Class III Gaming Procedures That Respect Tribal Sovereignty

SACRAMENTO, Calif., (February 5, 2024) – In a significant recognition of tribal sovereignty, Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has approved gaming procedures for the five plaintiff tribes in Chicken Ranch Rancheria v. California that do not create a regulatory role for the State of California.

On July 28, 2022, the United States Court of Appeals for Ninth Circuit ruled in Chicken Ranch Rancheria v. California that California had illegally sought to force Indian tribes to negotiate gaming compact provisions relating to family law, environmental regulation, and tort law that were unrelated to the operation of gaming activities and were “far outside the bounds of permissible negotiation” under Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The Court held that the imposition of State law unrelated to gaming was a bad faith attempt to use the compacting process as subterfuge for expanding State jurisdiction in Indian country. Under IGRA’s remedial process and in a court-imposed mediation following the decision, the State refused to consent to the mediator’s selected compact. The Secretary was then required to prescribe, in consultation with tribes, procedures that are consistent with the proposed compact selected by the mediator, the provisions of IGRA, and the relevant provisions of the laws of the State.

The approval of these procedures entitles the Tribes to regulate their own gaming with the oversight of the National Indian Gaming Commission. The State has no authority to regulate the Tribes’ gaming under the procedures. The procedures will remain in effect for a perpetual term, allowing the Tribes to engage in bond financing in the same manner as state agencies, and thereby develop the infrastructure on their reservations. Additionally, the Tribes can now operate an unlimited number of gaming facilities on their Indian lands. This will allow the Tribes, to respond to changing market conditions and address their individual economic needs. The Tribes’ procedures also allow them to add new games if the games can be operated by any other Tribe in California.

“We fought the State through five years of compact negotiations, five years of litigation, and won independence from State regulation, and Secretary Haaland’s ultimate approval of these procedures represents a major victory for tribal sovereignty,” said Lloyd Mathiesen, Chairman of the Chicken Ranch Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians. Les Marston, Attorney for four of the five Tribes, noted, “With the approval of these procedures, the Secretary affirms that the Tribes can effectively regulate their gaming activities. While it may be true that, when Congress enacted IGRA, the states were in the best position to regulate class III gaming, that notion is now an outdated relic of paternalism.” “Nobody is more qualified to regulate tribal gaming than tribes,” said Jason Ramos, Councilmember of the Blue Lake Rancheria, adding that “the Tribes can now shift their full focus to ensuring a future of Tribal prosperity.” “The Tribes commend Secretary Haaland and Assistant Secretary Newland for issuing procedures that truly respect tribal sovereignty,” said Glenn Lodge, Chair of the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe.

“This is a game changer for the Tribes. It shifts the balance of power back to the Tribes and places them on an equal footing with the states in the compact negotiation process”, said Lester J. Marston, an attorney with the firm Rapport and Marston of Ukiah, that represented the Tribes in the compact negotiations and litigation against the State and in the negotiations with the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs for the issuance of the Tribes’ Secretarial Procedures.