Academic journal article South Dakota Law Review

Indian Gaming and Beyond: Tribal Economic Development and Diversification

Academic journal article South Dakota Law Review

Indian Gaming and Beyond: Tribal Economic Development and Diversification

Article excerpt


Economic development in Indian Country, the topic of this symposium issue, is nearly synonymous with tribal gaming. No other modern industry has had such a substantial economic impact on tribal economies, and no other tribal industry has made such significant contributions outside of tribal economies.

Just two decades ago, as Congress deliberated over the bill that would become the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA), (2) Indian gaming consisted of a few tribes' high-stakes bingo halls and card rooms in a handful of states. Today tribal gaming is one of the fastest growing segments of legalized gambling in the United States, fed by the robust demand for casino gaming. In 1988, Indian gaming in a few bingo halls earned about $121 million; in calendar year 2007, revenues from 425 gaming facilities operated by 230 tribes in 28 states topped $26.5 billion (3).

How did Indian gaming become a multi-billion-dollar industry? What are its economic and fiscal impacts, both on and off the reservation? And what does the future hold for Indian gaming and tribal economic development? We take up each of these questions in turn.



The modern Indian gaming industry has its roots in the relatively modest bingo halls and card rooms operated by a number of tribes, most notably in California and Florida, in the late 1970s and 1980s. Almost as soon as tribes opened high-stakes bingo halls, states worked to close them. (4) By relying on the general principle of federal Indian law that states may not regulate tribal lands or tribal governments, tribes created a market advantage: tribes could offer games with higher stakes, longer hours, and bigger jackpots than were allowed under state regulations. (5)

In 1987, the year before Congress enacted IGRA, the U.S. Supreme Court decided California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians. (6) The case arose out of California's attempts to close a high-stakes bingo hall operated by the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians on its reservation near Palm Springs. As California law permitted charitable bingo games, but limited jackpot amounts and restricted the use of revenue to charitable purposes, the state considered the tribe's bingo games illegal. California acknowledged that states ordinarily lacked authority over tribal lands, but argued that Public Law 280 authorized application of California's bingo regulations on the tribes' reservations. (7) Enacted in 1953, Public Law 280 gave certain states, including California, a broad grant of criminal jurisdiction and a limited grant of civil jurisdiction over tribes within their borders. (8)

The Cabazon Court explained that if California's gambling laws were criminal prohibitions against gambling, the state could enforce them against the tribes under Public Law 280 (9). The extent of the state's civil jurisdiction was another matter. In an earlier case, the Supreme Court had ruled that Public Law 280's grant of civil jurisdiction did not provide broad authority for state regulation generally but rather was limited to private civil litigation in state court--that is, the statute conferred adjudicatory, rather than regulatory, civil jurisdiction. (10) Thus, if California's gambling laws were civil regulatory laws, the state did not have authority to enforce them against the tribes.

The "criminal/prohibitory-civil/regulatory" distinction required examination of state public policy concerning gambling to determine whether state law constituted a criminal prohibition against gambling generally or mere civil regulation of legalized gambling. At the time, California operated a state lottery and permitted pari-mutuel horserace wagering, bingo, and card games. "In light of the fact that California permits a substantial amount of gambling activity, including bingo, and actually promotes gambling through its state lottery," the Cabazon Court reasoned, "we must conclude that California regulates rather than prohibits gambling in general and bingo in particular. …

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