California's Indian population is small; yet the State is home to the greatest number of Indian tribal governments, one fifth of all in the United States. California has 108 individual, culturally and uniquely different federally recognized tribal governments. The 2000 census registered 346,000 urban Native Americans of which less than 34,000 are California Native Americans and less than two thirds live on "Indian lands". Of the 109 tribal governments that are federally recognized in California, 60 are operating 67 casinos.
Many of, it not all of California’s Indian Tribal governments and groups have been economically disadvantaged and view gaming as the only viable tool to help them lift themselves from economic difficulties. New housing, jobs, improvements to tribal infrastructure, and improved health care can be directly attributed to the advent of Indian gaming. This was the intended result, one of the main reasons for the passage of the federal enabling legislation that permitted and regulated Native American gaming.
Since its enactment in 1988, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) has been used in a manner which reaches far beyond a simple policy to regulate and permit gaming on Indian lands. It has become a broad national policy on gaming, but a policy enacted without any national ‘public’ debate or comment. IGRA is now being utilized by tribes and their investors to promote gaming in communities and states that would never have permitted gaming previously.
Although on its face limited to gaming, IGRA has affected tribal acknowledgment, tribal restorations, reaffirmations and gaming-related land acquisitions. Twenty-seven states have authorized full service casino-style gaming since the enactment of IGRA in an attempt to foster competition to control the expansion of tribal gaming.
Congress did not consider the unintended result of the emerging complexities of local government, community character, and the public health and safety services related to the newly developing federally sanctioned industry of tribal government gaming.
One thing is certain, what happens in California will affect national policy and national public awareness. California recognizes and is working toward the need for a comprehensive "federal" Indian gaming policy. Statements by the California State Association of Counties makes clear the need for a focused federal policy which ensures a balance between the rights and responsibilities of non-Indian citizens, local governments and tribal governments. Local governments and State agencies simply cannot be a charity of the tribal gaming industry. Tribal, local and state governments must be engaged in a mutually beneficial relationship in which all parties have a seat at the table.
Fortunately, a model Compact has emerged. Governor Schwarzenegger and some of the State's largest gaming tribes have signed new gaming intergovernmental agreements. As such, we are entering an entirely new era of tribal gaming in California. A new paradigm of relations between tribes, the State, local governments and local communities is emerging. The success of California’s intergovernmental agreements with tribal governments will be the focus of national attention and a model to replicate.