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Will the Graton Casino be Shut Down?

Posted in Legal Matters in the Community on March 8, 2015

Since long before the Graton Casino (Casino), located in Rohnert Park, opened its doors, the “Stop the Casino 101 Coalition” had been working to get the casino shut down. Why?  Because they believe having a casino in the county will lead to an increase in instances of child neglect, domestic violence, substance abuse, financial hardship, and suicide.[1] Their legal efforts to close the casino, launched in 2008, are based on the argument that the Graton tribe does not have the jurisdiction to operate the casino on land as the land upon which the casino was built did not traditionally belong to the tribe.[2]

The land in question had been subject to the State of California’s jurisdiction since California was admitted to the United States in 1850.[3]  As part of the development of the Casino, the land was transferred from private ownership and placed into trust for the Graton tribe.[4] However, the Coalition, claims, the State never ceded their sovereignty over this land, but merely transferred title.[5]  This is important, the Coalition states, because the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (enacted by Congress in 1988 “to regulate the conduct of gaming on Indian Lands”)[6] requires that all Indian gaming comply with its requirements, one of which is that “Indian gaming be restricted to lands under tribal jurisdiction.”[7] If the land is, instead, subject to the jurisdiction of the State of California, our state Constitution would prohibit gambling[8] on the land.   While 2000’s Proposition 1A granted Indian tribes the ability to operating gaming facilities, critics claim that it was implicit that such faculties “would be located only on original reservation land.”[9]

In October 2014, the State Court of Appeals, however, announced that as the tribe was “federally recognized pursuant to federal law” when the Congress passed the Graton Rancheria Restoration Act, and the land was deemed property “of the tribe’s reservation under federal law,” the tribe was allowed to build and operate gaming facilities under IGRA.[10] The court reached that decision pointing to a line of precedent holding that “a federally recognized tribe exercises jurisdiction over its reservation.”[11] To hold otherwise, it reasoned, would run contrary to the “traditional notions of Indian sovereignty and the congressional goal of Indian self-government, including its overriding goal of encouraging tribal self-sufficiency and economic development.”[12] Finally, the court held that the transfer of jurisdiction over the land from California to the Graton tribe was a necessary implication of the Governor signing and the Legislature ratifying the tribal Compact.[13]

The Coalition filed its petition for review of the decision by the state Supreme Court on November 14, 2014.[14]  Legal commentators posit that it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will overturn the decision.[15] However, given that the voters rejected Proposition 48, which would have approved of a tribe building an off-site casino, overturning the decision would appear to be in line with what a consensus of California voters want.[16]

The determination of the case will be closely watched by other tribes in the Bay Area,[17] especially the Koi Nation and the Elem Indian Colony, which have entered competing bids for a parcel on land in Vallejo upon which the tribes hope to build another casino.[18]



[1] Stop the Casino 101 Coalition, Ten Problems Casinos Cause, located at www.stopthecasino101.com (last visited December 29, 2014).

[2] Mark Wilson, Graton Casino Opponents File Petition for Review in Calif. Sup. Ct. (November 18, 2014).

[3] See Stop the Casino 101 Coalition v. Brown (2014) 230 Cal.App.4th 280, 283, as modified on denial of reh’g (Oct. 28, 2014), review filed (Nov. 12, 2014)

[4] Id.

[5] Stop the Casino 101 Coalition, Stop Graton Casino, located at www.stopthecasino101.com (last visited December 29, 2014).

[6] National Indian Gaming Commission, Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, located at http://www.nigc.gov/Laws_Regulations/Indian_Gaming_Regulatory_Act.aspx (last visited December 29, 2014).

[7] Stop the Casino 101 Coalition, Stop Graton Casino, located at www.stopthecasino101.com (last visited December 29, 2014).

[8] See Cal. Const. art IV, § 19, subd. (e).

[9] Mark Wilson, Graton Casino Opponents File Petition for Review in Calif. Sup. Ct. (November 18, 2014).

[10] Stop the Casino 101 Coalition v. Brown (2014) 230 Cal.App.4th 280, 285, as modified on denial of reh’g (Oct. 28, 2014), review filed (Nov. 12, 2014)

[11] Id. at 287.

[12] Id. at 288.

[13] Id. at 290.

[14] Stop the Casino 101 Coalition, Stop Graton Casino, located at www.stopthecasino101.com (last visited December 29, 2014).

[15] Mark Wilson, Graton Casino Opponents File Petition for Review in Calif. Sup. Ct. (November 18, 2014).

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Kevin Fagan, Indian Tribes Competing to Build Huge Casino in Vallejo, SFGate (November 18, 2014).