US Department of Interior Rejects Gaming Compacts Between California & Two Tribes

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A decision from the US Department of the Interior is catching heat from California Governor Gavin Newsom.

This while several legal battles surrounding gaming in California are still up in the air.

The department has rejected Class III gaming compacts between California and two tribes: the Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians and the Santa Rosa Indian Community of the Santa Rancheria.

The compacts are agreements between states and tribes that stipulate how many gaming platforms and casinos a tribe can operate, according to the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations. Gov. Newsom signed the compacts back in March, and this decision is rubbing him the wrong way.

“The Department chose to disregard the interests of the tribes,” Newsom said.

The decision by the DOI denies the tribes the ability to expand their existing casinos and add more casino-style gambling options, such as slot machines, roulette, and craps. The denial has been met with surprise from both

tribes.

California gaming, Gavin Newsom
California Gov. Gavin Newsom unhappy with DOI’s decision to reject gaming compacts between California and tribes (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File).

The feeling is mutual for Gov. Newsom. He says this is the second time the DOI has “arbitrarily disapproved” gaming compacts with the Santa Rosa Rancheria and the Middletown Rancheria. This despite what he called “carefully negotiated” agreements between the state and the tribes to provide them the economic benefits of gaming.

“Despite the tribes’ efforts to meet with Interior and changes negotiated with the State of California to address concerns expressed by Interior, the Department chose to disregard the interests of the tribes,” Newsom said in a press release.

Planned Expansion Won’t Happen After DOI’s Decision

The Middletown Rancheria tribe operates Twin Pine Casino & Hotel near Middletown. The tribe had planned to add table games, including roulette and craps, to its casino. Meanwhile, the Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi Yokut tribe operates the Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino in Lemoore. The tribe had planned to expand by 44,000 square feet and add a three-level parking garage, an additional 12- room hotel tower, and a new bingo hall/conference center.

“The disapprovals threaten the ability of these and other tribes to invest and maintain jobs in many of California’s economically disadvantaged communities,” Newsom said. “The State of California will continue working with Santa Rosa Rancheria and Middletown Rancheria to rectify this decision and avoid its negative impacts.”

US Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Bryan Newland told the Middletown Rancheria tribe that it had not adequately executed his recommended changes to the 2021 agreement, which the DOI also rejected, according to the Lake County News.

Newland argued that the compact gave expansive powers to the state and local governments to regulate tribal activities and lands that are not directly related to the actual conduct of gaming. He also called the decision an attempt to protect the interests of the tribe against burdensome governmental oversight.

Jose “Moke” Simon is the Chairman of the Middletown Rancheria tribal council. He said he was shocked by the DOI’s disapproval of the compact.

“While California has taken great steps forward, sadly, the betrayal we feel from (US) Secretary (of the Interior Deb) Haaland is something we have come to expect from the federal government,” Simon said in a statement (via The Press Democrat). “The path forward is now paved with stones that will make it difficult to navigate our tribe’s future.”

Leo Sisco, Chairman of the Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi Yokut Tribe, says the disapproval will compromise the tribe’s economy.

“Our tribe will not have the resources to expand the Tachi Palace Casino that would have created new living wage jobs and benefited an ailing local economy,” said Sisco. “The chilling effect this decision will have in Indian Country is immeasurable and the financial cost to our tribe will be irreparable.”

CNIGA Sides With the DOI

Not all Indian organizations were unhappy with the DOI’s decision. James Siva, Chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, released a lengthy statement following Gov. Newsom’s scathing remarks directed toward the DOI.

“While the California Nations Indian Gaming Association believes that every California tribe is entitled to a class III gaming compact that complies with IGRA, and while CNIGA has the greatest respect and appreciation for Gov. Newsom’s stated intention to rectify the many historic wrongs committed or facilitated by the state of California against its Native peoples, in this instance Gov. Newsom simply is wrong, and the Department of the Interior is correct,” Siva said.

He added, “Simply put, the state should not put any tribe in the position of having to choose between the self-reliance offered through gaming, and surrendering its sovereignty in matters not directly related to and necessary for the regulation, licensing and actual operation of class III gaming activities.”

Also read: California’s Prop 27 Sports Betting Ballot Initiative, Explained | Prop 26: California’s In-Person Sports Betting Initiative Explained | Apolitical Guide to California Sports Betting

About the Author
C.J. Pierre

C.J. Pierre

C.J. Pierre is a multimedia journalist currently residing in the Phoenix-Metro Area in Arizona. He has been covering news and sports for over a decade for both online and TV broadcasts. He was born and raised in Minneapolis and an alum of Minnesota State University: Moorhead. He has recently dived into tribal casino news. He also covered the launch of sports betting in Arizona. C.J. has experience as a reporter and videographer and has covered high school, college and professional sports throughout his career. Most notably following Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Vikings and North Dakota State University football.

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