U.S. Interior Department’s New Indian Policies Could Lead to More California Casinos
A current initiative in the U.S. Congress might simplify laws to make it easier to recogize Native American tribes. The law would lower standards for recognition, lowering the time a tribe has been recognized by the U.S. government by a significant margin. If this happens, local states like California could see an upswing in the number of tribal casinos. California already leads the nation in Indian casinos, so any significant increase could damage communities and saturate the market, say many opponents of the new law.
For that reason, a coalition of California officials, concerned citizens, and anti-gambling advocates are lining up to challenge the proposed new law. “Stand Up for California” is one such group. The political action group released a report this week which showed that lowering standards could have far-ranging effects on the California communities.
At the moment, California has 109 recognized Native American tribes. The state has 71 casinos and other gaming venues. Also, 68 other groups have submitted applications to federal authorities, hoping to be recognized as Indian tribes.
Stand Up For California estimates that the new law would lead to a rapid recognition of at least 34 new tribes. If this happened, the numbers indicate that approximately 22 new casinos would be built. Between the tribal casinos and the licensed private operations, California would have over 200 gaming sites in the state. Opponents says this is simply too many for the safety of Californians and the communities they live in.
Arguments Against Casino Expansion
Not only would tribes be given the right to build casinos, based on sovereignty laws, but they could seize public lands for this purpose. Cheryl Schmit of Stand Up For California says this would take development potential away from private businesses, but also could lower the potential revenues for the state itself.
Schmit said, “When you take land out of the regulatory authority of the state and off the land rolls, there is a loss not only of property tax revenue, but also of what businesses could have been developed there.”
Political activists are not the only ones concerned. Average citizens wonder about the proliferation of the casinos in the state. “Who needs dozens more casinos,” asked resident Phil Lucito of Fresno, when told a new law might allow more gaming destinations. “You can drive 100 miles in any direction and gamble. What kind of service do they provide?”
Arguments on Behalf of Casinos
Proponents of gambling expansion say casinos would provide more revenues for the state of California, without the need to raise taxes. Gambling is seen by some as a voluntary form of tax, but at least it’s voluntary.
Alan Meister, an economist who studies tribal gaming, says the worst-case scenarios described by opponents of the policy are not as immediate as they would have you think. Meister says government decisions on tribal matters often take decades to happen, while the building of casinos takes years more. Meister said that casinos do have positive effects besides revenue.
Meister added, “Tribes contribute in other ways. There are jobs and other services that are benefiting” to the nearby communities.
Cindy Crosier, who worked at a California casino for 17 years, says her standard of living rose because of Pechanga tribal gaming. Mrs. Crosier said, “I put my daughter through college with the money I made at the casino. I couldn’t have made the same wage at Wal-Mart.”
U.S. Department of the Interior Policy
The policy in question was announced by the U.S. Department of the Interior in May 2014. The traditional date of recognition is the founding of the current U.S. government in 1789, when the former American colonies ratified the Constitution. If a tribe was recognized at the time of the formation of the United States, then it is recognized as a legitimate sovereign tribe.
Under the new policy, the federal government would set 1934 as the key date. 1934 is the year that federal authorities began to recognize Indian tribes as “political entities”. Under this much less stringent method of determining legitimate tribes, the number of Indian nations would swell by 50% across the United States. If the Interior Department (which traditionally handles Indian affairs) has its way, then the 50 states are likely to see a new wave of casino construction at a time when most experts believe the market is saturated.
The new policies will allow previously rejected tribes to reapply, while lowering the percentage number of Indians in a community to 30%. This would allow the Interior Department to declare a great number of tribes that never would have been legitimized before, even though 70% of said communities would be non-Indian.
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