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No Indian Casinos in Los Angeles County? Why Not?

By Ralph B. Saltsman and Stephen Warren Solomon | November 22, 2011


With Indian Casinos virtually surrounding Los Angeles County, one might ask: why are there no Indian Casinos in Los Angeles County? The short answer is, there are no Indian Reservations in Los Angeles County upon which a casino could be built. How close did the L.A. basin get to having an Indian Reservation? The Gabrielino-Tongva, along with other tribes living west of the Sierras negotiated treaties with the United States between 1851 and 1853, but the treaties were never ratified by the U.S. Senate. Rather, the treaties were stuck in a drawer for 50 years in Washington, D.C. until found there in 1905. Today, over a hundred years after the treaties were discovered, there is no reservation. There is no federal recognition of the Gabrielino-Tongva as an Indian Nation. There will be no Indian Casino in Los Angeles County.

One can dream that had the United States government by Congressional Resolution adopted the 1851 Treaty recognizing the Gabrielino-Tongva as an Indian Nation, with a reservation set on properties somewhere in Los Angeles County as a settlement of the Tribe’s claim for lands in the Los Angeles basin. Wrongs committed by Mexico and Missionaries against generations of Gabrielino-Tongva would have been rectified. As an officially recognized Indian Tribe the Gabrielino-Tongva certainly could have been in the club of Indian Nations in California operating Indian gaming casinos after 1999. It didn’t happen in 1851, and it realistically cannot happen now.

Settling the Los Angeles area around 7,000 years ago, the Gabrielino-Tongva have been effectively shut out of the Tribe’s consistent and ancient claims to its homelands. Before European occupation of the Los Angeles area, the Gabrielino-Tongva established villages from west of the San Bernardino Mountains to Catalina and the Channel Islands, as far up the coast as Topanga, as far north as Tejon and as far south as at least Newport Beach and perhaps Laguna Beach. The 1851 treaty likely would have provided the Tribe with significant land interests in the Los Angeles basin. With the agreements lost and forgotten for over fifty years, no resolution of land claims was completed. Land claims settlements were undertaken after the conclusion of World War II, but the payments on millions of acres for Tribes west of the Sierras was an embarrassing pittance.

Instead of a casino, what the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe has today is no reservation land, no federal recognition, no home and no realistic prospect for achieving those objectives. The Tribe continues in its quest for Federal recognition. In fact it was not until 1994 that the State of California formally recognized the Gabrielino-Tongva Nation.

Had that treaty been ratified, by the end of the 20th Century the Tribe would want a multi-million dollar casino and could possibly have the financial backing to build one. In order for the casino to include Class III gaming, the land upon which the casino would stand must be Indian land. The federal government divides Indian gaming into three classes with Class I gaming being social games for nominal prizes and traditional forms of Indian gaming as part of tribal ceremonies or celebrations. Class II gaming consists of bingo and also card games explicitly authorized by the State or those card games not explicitly prohibited by the State and may be played anywhere within the State. Class III gaming includes slot machines, poker, and blackjack. Fantasy headlines aside, the reality foretells no Indian Class III Casino will be built in Los Angeles County.

While the Federal government has the power, authority and jurisdiction to create an Indian Reservation and convert land held in fee to trust land, clearly, politics dictate whether one of the enumerated routes will yield Indian land where a Class III casino could stand. Considering all the economic power held by likely opponents to creation of Indian land in LA County, and considering the political strength of those likely opponents, it’s unrealistic to entertain thoughts of such events in the future.

It’s procedurally possible but not to be achieved. If the Tribe had land where a casino could be built, the assumption is the Gabrielino-Tongva would certainly be an attractive investment for lending institutions and would be a logical contact for architects, construction firms management companies all competent and vitally familiar with Indian gaming establishments. Within a few years, the Gabrielino-Tongva Indian Nation would own and operate the only Indian Casino in Los Angeles County. The Maricopa Tribe has a saying: “Everyone who is successful must have dreamed of something.”

This dream is clearly to stay just a dream.

Ralph B. Saltsman represents Alcoholic Beverage Control Licensees including Indian Casinos throughout California and has prevailed in major appellate decisions governing the conduct of California and local goverenment agencies. He has been in practice since 1974 and is considered a leader in the field of administrative law. Stephen Warren Solomon has been in practice since 1964 and has represented major businesses and Indian Casinos in California in cases ranging from Indian Gaming to catastrophic personal injury trials. Saltsman and Solomon have been in practice together since 1977.

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