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Court: NLRA Applies to Tribal Casino

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

In gambling, sometimes the house doesn't win.

That's what happened in National Labor Relations Board v. Casino Pauma. The tribal casino tried to keep employees from distributing union literature, and the NLRB stepped in.

The board said the casino violated federal laws protecting union activity, but the tribe said not on its land. In a petition to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the casino took a chance and lost.

Union Literature

Pauma Band of Mission Indians owns Casino Pauma on the tribe's reservation in Pauma, California. Nearly 3,000 customers go there every day.

More than 460 people work at the casino; a handful are members of the tribe. One day in 2013, some workers started to distribute union leaflets to customers as they entered the casino.

Security workers told them to take their leafleting to the back of the building. Several employees tried again weeks later, and they were disciplined.

The NLRB filed complaints over the incidents, and an administrative law judge held that the casino violated the National Labor Relations Act by trying to stop union activities.

The tribe petitioned for review, and the government petitioned for enforcement.


The Ninth Circuit ruled the Labor Act applies to tribal employers. The appellate panel said the law does not violate the tribe's right to govern itself.

"In short, the Board's conclusion that Casino Pauma violated its employees' NLRA right to distribute union literature was adequately supported," the judges said in a unanimous ruling.

They denied the casino's petition, and granted the labor board's. Unless the U.S. Supreme Court acts, that would be game over.

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