Harrah’s Resort Southern California now under NIGC authority
The Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians, which is the owner of Harrah’s Resort Southern California, has made history by being the first operator to extract itself from being overseen by the state’s gaming regulatory body.
The tribal casino operator will now work alongside the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC). The idea of having the NIGC replace the California state authority was first disclosed in November; however, just after the New Year celebrations, the operator and the NIGC signed an official agreement to seal the deal on January 3, 2023.
The deal to cut out of the state body and seek a federal group has been long overdue, as the Rincon has questioned the “costing” placed on them by the state authority for over 10 years now. The operator has been in a gaming compact with the state since 1999.
The tribe’s chairman, Bo Mazzetti, said the group was not bothered about paying for oversight in the state; the controversy was being asked to pay for dues that were not stated clearly as to what they were meant to cover.
“The tribe agrees to pay actual and reasonable oversight costs to the state of California. That’s where the dispute started. We don’t mind paying our costs of oversight to the state. However, the state wouldn’t tell us what we were paying for. They wouldn’t break it down. No household or business would pay a bill not knowing what they were paying for,” he said.
A handful of states have their tribal casinos managed at the federal level, but the case of California has always been different. Rincon was made to pay into the state coffers in order to be managed by the state, and a part of its revenue was also allocated to the state.
Both groups have gone back and forth in regards to quotas and other legal issues. In 2004, the casino operator filed a lawsuit against California’s then-governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, for going against their agreement and federal gaming laws by increasing the revenue rate to be paid in exchange for more slot machines.
“In 1999 we had the standard gaming compact that was involved with gaming. We then had a dispute with the state (Schwarzenegger) in 2004 [three years after Rincon opened its casino.] The dispute was over the fact that they were charging and wanting us to pay for things that were not part of the intent of IGRA. Paying into different funds that were not covered by the law,” Mazzetti explained in an interview.
Mazzetti stated that the outcome of events is just the reverse of what things should be like. According to him, working with a federal group and having a sovereign tribe is in line with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
“What we’ve done is exert our sovereign jurisdiction as was originally intended by federal IGRA (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) that authorized Indian gaming. It was always the intent for tribes to run their own casino business but when they passed IGRA they said you need to reach an agreement with your state. That became the compact,” he said.
The chairman considers the tribe’s action to be a natural evolution of what started 20 years ago when Indian gaming was legalized in the state.
“We are implementing the law as it was intended by IGRA. It goes back to the intent of that law,” Mazzetti noted.
He added that the tribe tried to reach an amicable term with the state, but it was not forthcoming.
“We are the face of implementing the law as it was intended. We tried to work with the State for twelve years to get these issues resolved. We just wanted answers. We tried to negotiate and be good partners. We just could not get to that point. Ultimately, the State opted out because Rincon “had become like a burr under their saddle,” Mazzetti concluded.