Florida's War On Indian Gaming: An Attack On Tribal Sovereignty

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  • Jerry C. Straus

In 1988 Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).1 The states, disappointed with certain aspects of the IGRA legislation, launched a war against Indian tribes to stop them from conducting the gaming which Congress had determined was a vital source of economic development for tribes and a proper exercise of tribal sovereignty. In 1994 governors from forty-nine states signed and sent a letter to Congress urging drastic revisions in the law purportedly to protect states’ rights.

To this day, every Session of Congress brings the introduction of legislation that would curtail or destroy Indian gaming rights.

The states viewed the establishment of tribal casinos within their borders as an intrusion of states’ rights that should be stopped or, at a minimum, curtailed. To the tribes, Indian gaming had to be protected and expanded because it was the only known source of economic development that gave tribes the resources to raise themselves from levels of abject poverty that had continued on most reservations for more than a century.

Currently, the Indian gaming war is almost over. In state after state, through negotiation or litigation or some combination of the two, the tribe and the states have been able to agree on the compacts IGRA requires for the conduct of casino gaming. Indian gaming ventures have helped the state and local economy, while affording tribes the economic development they desperately need. At the present time there are 179 compacts negotiated between 160 tribes and 24 states. Last year the California tribes and the State of California entered into a statewide compact approved through the passage of an amendment to the State Constitution that has finally resolved the controversies that have raged in that state for more than ten years.