The Basic Litigation Behind Indian Gaming

The rise of Indian gaming over the past 30 years has been significant. Unfortunately there is no specific dollar figure that can be placed on the industry as no public statistical figures exist. Regardless, Indian gaming has had a short history with many laws passed by Congress over the past 4 decades.

Indian gaming technically begins with the passage of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 which allowed tribes to continue to exist. The growth of Indian gambling outcrops from this act and has made it what it is today.

In the late 1970’s, Florida legalized bingo for nonprofit organizations. Specific laws were enacted regarding the game, prize limits and the available hours. In 1979, a Florida Seminole tribe opened a high stakes bingo parlor which failed to comply with many state laws. This was the first recognized tribe to open and operate a bingo operation on a reservation.

Due to the parlor not following the laws, the Sheriff of Broward County threatened to shut down the operation. As a result, the U.S. Supreme Court questioned whether bingo gaming in Florida was regulated or simply prohibited. If prohibited, the state could shut down the parlor, if regulated this was a civil case. The result was the tribe could continue their bingo operations.

At the time of this case there were only five states that prohibited gambling which allowed Native American tribes to greatly expand. By 1988 there were over 100 tribes across the United States that managed a bingo operation. As a result, the tribes wished to expand their gaming opportunities further.

Due to the grim conditions commonly found on Indian reservations, Congress supported the idea of expanding Indian gaming to improve the area. Unfortunately, there were plenty of states against the opening of Indian-run casinos even if they exhibited legalized gambling.

Law enforcement worried about organized crime infiltrating the reservations. Other gaming operators were concerned about the competition from Indian gaming sites. Local and state Governments were concerned about the social problems that may incur from additional gaming sites.

Eventually Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act intended to:

  • Ensure Indian tribes were the benefactors of gambling
  • Establish fair gaming
  • Establish standards
  • Prevent corruption
  • Promote tribal self-sufficiency

The states were still not on board with this act, but it stuck and legalized Indian gaming became a reality. Indian gaming has gone through plenty of legal battles to get where they are today.