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Graton Casino Opponents File Petition for Review in Calif. Sup. Ct.

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on November 18, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Last year, Graton Casino opened near Sonoma; you've probably seen their catchy TV commercials, featuring Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' song "Can't Hold Us." Still, that hasn't stopped opponents from trying to shut it down. (More on that in a bit.)

Separately, California voters this month defeated Proposition 48, which would have allowed two Indian tribes to build a casino near Fresno on land that wasn't traditionally theirs; instead, the land would be purchased by the federal government and held in trust for the benefit of the tribes.

Voters resoundingly rejected Prop. 48, whose opponents insisted that its approval would open the floodgates to Indian casinos built on off-reservation land.

The Court of Appeal's Opinion

For a while now, the "Stop the Casino 101 Coalition" has been trying to get Graton shut down. They lost in October at the Court of Appeal and are now petitioning the state supreme court for review.

The thrust of their argument before the Court of Appeal was a technical one, but one on which the proposed Prop. 48 casinos -- and any future casinos of that type -- rested. They argued that "the transfer to the federal government of title to property is not the equivalent of a transfer of jurisdiction." Essentially, the tribe might have title to the property, but it doesn't have jurisdiction.

Generally true, but the court said that jurisdiction was conferred when Congress recognized the Indian tribe and the Department of the Interior accepted land in trust for the tribe, granting them sovereignty over the land. No explicit statement is necessary. And if that weren't enough, the court emphasized that, because Indian tribes have sovereignty over their land, it follows that they have jurisdiction there. So, no dice (no pun intended -- although dice games actually aren't allowed at California Indian casinos).

Petition for Review

Now, the casino opponents are petitioning for review before the California Supreme Court. The petition itself isn't available online, but was filed with the court on November 12. If the court were to reverse the Court of Appeal, it would call into question not only Graton, but other casino projects in the planning phase, including one near Vallejo.

Opponents of California Indian casinos argued against Prop. 48 on the ground that, when Indian gaming was permitted by Proposition 1A in 2000, there was an implicit promise that "casinos would be located only on original reservation land" (although that language doesn't appear in the proposition or in any of the arguments in favor of it). It's unlikely, however, that the Supreme Court will invalidate Graton; however, should Indian casino opponents want to stop future expansion into newly acquired tribal land, the results of Prop. 48 suggest that voters may be on their side.

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