Opinion: Indian gaming, 20 years after Cabazon

"Indian gaming is the fastest-growing segment of legalized gambling in the United States, fed by our seemingly insatiable appetite for high-stakes poker, slots and even bingo.

How did Indian gaming become a $25 billion industry fueled by more than 400 tribal casinos in 30 states?

The answer lies in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that is 25 years old today: California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians.

On Feb. 25, 1987, the court's landmark decision in Cabazon opened the door for Indian gaming. At the time, though, no one knew how momentous it would be.

The Cabazon band is a small tribe with reservation lands near Palm Springs, Calif. In the mid-1980s, the band ran a bingo parlor and a poker room. When state officials threatened to close down the games, the case made it all the way to the Supreme Court.

California argued that the band's high-stakes bingo and poker games violated state law and wanted the court to recognize its authority to regulate gambling on reservations. The band argued that its status as a sovereign government prevented state interference in its affairs.

The court held that California's laws were unenforceable against the tribe. Gambling, said the court, did not violate the state's public policy; instead, the state permitted gambling and even encouraged it through the state lottery."

Get the Story:
Kathryn R.L. Rand and Steven Light: Indian gaming: Bust or boom? (The Grand Forks Herald 2/25)