Augustine Cahuilla Tribe Sues California Over ‘Excessive’ Gaming Compact Demands

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Augustine Cahuilla Tribe Sues California Over ‘Excessive’ Gaming Compact Demands

One of California’s smallest Native American tribes is suing the state and its governor, Gavin Newson, in a federal court. It accuses state negotiators of overreach during protracted compact talks.

Augustine Cahuilla
Augustine Cahuilla
Amanda Vance, 34, is the chair of the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians, one of America’s smallest Native American tribes. (Image: Omar Ornelas/The Desert Sun)

Consisting of only 16 members, the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians (ABCI) operates the Augustine Casino on its reservation in Coachella, south of Palms Springs.

The tribe’s original compact with California, signed in 2000, is due to expire on June 30, 2022. That means both parties must renegotiate the gaming agreement under the terms of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 1988 (IGRA).

But talks have hit stalemate.

ABCI claims California has “failed to negotiate in good faith” by demanding compact provisions that are “not proper subjects under IGRA” and neglecting to offer meaningful concessions when it was obligated to do so.

‘Excessive Payments’

According to the tribe, the Newson administration’s demands have included that the tribal government enact new labor laws to replace those that were approved by the state back in 2000.

The administration has also demanded compliance on a range of issues from the minimum wage and environmental laws to whether the tribe can be sued for damages for injuries that occur on its reservation, ABCI says.

State negotiators also want the tribe to make “excessive” payments into various state funds, which it claims are disproportionate to the amount paid by other tribes.

ABCI is concerned that if negotiations are not concluded before the expiration of its compact, it will be accused by the state of offering illegal gambling. It wants the court to rule that it can continue its gaming activities per its 2000 compact until the issue is resolved.  

Federally recognized tribes like ABCI can offer Class II gaming, such as bingo and poker, on their sovereign reservations under IGRA without the blessing of the state.

But class III, or Las Vegas-style casino gaming, is a legally more complex issue, which IGRA says requires a compact between the two parties to govern things like revenue-share payments.

Beyond IGRA

In California, 109 federally recognized tribes have exclusivity on casino gaming under the terms of their compacts and are determined to assert their sovereignty and right to self-governance.

Many of these tribes are in the process of renegotiating those compacts, and some have complained that the state’s demands are going beyond the scope of IGRA.

In April, a federal judge in Fresno wrote that the state would have to give tribes “meaningful concessions” if it wanted them to comply with California laws.

US District Judge Anthony Ishii suggested compact negotiations should be limited to matters relating purely to gaming on reservations to take the focus off issues that impact tribal sovereignty.

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