California | Land Acquisitions | NIGC | New York

Bureau of Indian Affairs still moves slowly on casino applications

The Enterprise Rancheria plans to build a gaming facility at this site along Forty Mile Road south of Yuba City, California. The project won approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the state governor but tribes with existing casinos are trying to stop it in court. Rival tribes also lobbied the California Legislature and blocked ratification of the Class III gaming compact for the project. Image from Google Maps

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has pledged to place 500,000 acres in trust by the end of the Obama administration but the agency is still moving slowly on gaming acquisitions.

Citing the latest Casino City Indian Gaming Industry Report, Indian Country Today said 26 gaming applications are pending at the BIA. The oldest dates to the 2005 -- it's for the Cayuga Nation of New York, according to ICT. Tribes in California, Oklahoma, South Dakota Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming are also waiting for decisions, ICT said.

The tribes can't pin the delays entirely on the BIA. The National Indian Gaming Commission also plays a role in determining whether certain lands can be used for a casino under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

The BIA, though, is the only agency with authority to approve land-into-trust applications. According to the Casino City report, the Obama administration has only slightly improved its record with respect to gaming-related acquisitions -- the rate has grown to 2.67 a year, compared to 2.37 per year during the Bush era.

Generally, IGRA bars gaming on newly acquired lands. But Section 20 of the law contains exceptions for newly recognized tribes, tribes that were restored to recognition, tribes with land claim settlements and tribes in Oklahoma. Lands contiguous to existing reservations also qualify.

Tribes that don't qualify for an exception can seek a two-part determination, a process that requires approval by the BIA and the governor in the state where the casino would be located. Since 1988, only three tribes have opened casinos after completing both steps of the process.

According to ICT's review of the Casino City report, 67 Section 20 applications have been approved since 1988. California had 13, the most of any state, and it's home to several high-profile disputes between tribes existing casinos and tribes that want to enter the Indian gaming industry.

The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, for example, is opposed by the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians. The Chukchansis qualified for a Section 20 exception in 2000 and in 2001, according to the NIGC.

The Enterprise Rancheria is facing opposition from the United Auburn Indian Community. The Auburns qualified for Section 20 exceptions in 2000 and 2002.

Both the North Fork Rancheria and the Enterprise Rancheria followed the two-part determination process for their casinos and received approvals from the BIA and the state governor. Since the Chukchanis and Auburns qualified for exceptions, they did not need the separate state approval.

Get the Story:
Tribes Left Hanging: 26 Land-Acquired-in-Trust Applications Pending (Indian Country Today 4/1)