Native American Lands

I think I understand how Indian reservations work, and how tribes can be thought of as independent nations that exist within the US, but I am still confused about land that the tribes own that is not inside their historic reservations.

Say there is a federally recognized tribe whose tiny reservation is located in the middle of California. What if the tribe was to purchase 15 acres of land that was zoned for commercial development somewhere in the Bay Area itself.

Could the tribe then open an Indian casino on their new tribal land? Or does a casino have to be built on historic reservation land?

I’m guessing they can’t legally open a casino on their 15 acres because if they could they would have done it by now…

This is going to vary by State law. In Washington State, they can open their Casino, and there are tons of them all over the State. I dunno nothing about California.

It depends. On a lot. It’s complicated.

When it comes to tribal lands, there are basically four categories:

  1. Reservation land, which is federal territory that has a devolved tribal government recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
  2. Land outside the reservation which is owned in fee simple by a nearby tribal government.
  3. Tribal trust lands, which are owned by the federal government and held in trust for the benefit of the tribe. These may be within a reservation or outside of it.
  4. Land outside reservations owned privately by enrolled member(s) of a tribe.

Categories 2-4 have a mish-mash of protections and regulations that depend largely on the state government where the activity is taking place. In some states there is no particular special status for #4, and in others it can exempt you from a lot of state oversight, for example.

It happened here in Minnesota, under our state laws.

A tribe purchased a building in downtown Duluth, and opened a casino there, where they got a lot of customers.

(Since the building had formerly been a Sears Roebuck store, the locals jokingly referred to the tribe of Sears & Roebuck.)

This exact scenario is playing out in Glendale, AZ right now.

The Tohono O’odham nation is a relatively poor tribe in a remote area of southern AZ. Some years ago, a dam was built and a valley was flooded on their Rez and it destroyed a profitable farming operation. Part of the agreement was that the tribe could replace that acreage with purchased land and add that to their reservation. They surreptitiously purchased land in an unincorporated county island in the middle of Glendale near the Cardinal’s stadium and applied to have it added to their reservation so they could build a casino in the middle of town. They have faced challenges from the city of Glendale and another more urban tribe who owns the closest casino to the proposed site. It has been in court for the last 3 years, but it looks to be leaning in favor of the tribe being able to build the casino.

Not sure why, but here in NC the Cherokees had to get permission to add live dealers at their casino. Before that they only had video poker. I can’t understand why the state can regulate them.

Yeah, come to think of it, I can’t think of why either. Wouldn’t the tribe be under Federal jurisdiction first?

The tribes are required to come to an agreement with the state before they’re allowed to permit gambling on their land. Supposedly, the tribes could sue a state if they’re not negotiating in good faith so they can’t block it outright, but the state does ultimately have a lot of control over how the gambling works on the reservations. See here

Incidentally, it works both ways-- the tribes have control over state-run gambling schemes on the reservations. In the OP’s neck of the woods, the Salish-Kootenai tribe recently cancelled their compact with the state of Montana, so you’ve got those chintzy little $800 limit video machine “casinos” everywhere in the state except on the reservation! The tribe does have a fancy vegas-style casino, which is probably why they booted the other gambling.

Gambling is solely controlled by states as far as I know.

The Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe here in South Dakota is wanting to pretty much the same thing in that they want to build a casino in Sioux Falls. In the news story, it said the land would have to be put in trust first and would be owned by the tribe.

Well, sort of, but that’s not really relevant here. As GreasyJack said above, tribal gaming is regulated by the federal government under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. That Act requires tribes to develop a regulatory agreement for gaming with the state(s) where their reservations are located. Otherwise the states would not have any particular right to assert jurisdiction over tribal activities.

But it gets a lot more complicated when dealing with off-reservation activities as I alluded to above, such as tribal governments buying land outside the reservation, which is then owned by the tribe but under the jurisdiction of the state.

It’s not just casinos.

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (no relation) has plans to build a gas station in Marquette, Michigan. Apparently the land needs to be put into trust by federal U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in order to exempt from state sales and property taxes. There is some resistance from the current gas station owners, as their business would be undercut substantially.

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They already have a gas station in Baraga that I always buy gas from, it’s consistantly 30-40 cents cheaper.