State of the Tribal Nations Speech, 2020

Press Release
For Immediate Release


State of the Tribal Nations Speech, 2020

February 11, 2020

Western Indian Gaming Conference
Sycuan Casino Resort
General Session

CNIGA Chairman James Siva:

Good morning and welcome to the 25th annual Western Indian Gaming Conference. It is an honor to address you all for the first time as chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association.

It is a testament to the sponsors, vendors and seminar speakers, who have supported the conference for a quarter century that the WIGC continues to be a yearly success. Thank you all so much.

We would also like to thank the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation and Chairman Cody Martinez for hosting us in their beautiful new facility. Your ongoing support of the WIGC and the Association is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Also, we would like to acknowledge two of our newest members, the Tachi Yokut Tribe of the Santa Rosa Rancheria, as well as the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians. Welcome back! We’re glad that you are with us.

I am here this morning to report that the state of the tribal nations in California is strong. The overall economy remains solid and it has provided fertile ground for growth in our industry. Over the last year we have seen multiple tribal government gaming facilities open and the expansion of other existing facilities, including the one that we are in right now.

Currently, tribal government gaming and corresponding enterprises are undergoing a significant period of expansion. In the Sacramento area, we have witnessed the openings of facilities by the Buena Vista and Enterprise Rancherias. Also, in the Sacramento area, the Wilton Rancheria prevailed in federal court on their land acquisition to transform the grounds of a ghostly half-built mall derailed by the Great Recession into a sparkling new facility slated to open next year.

Here at Sycuan, you can see for yourself the results of a $226 million hotel and resort expansion that opened this past year, as well as the opening of the Sycuan Square project, whose initial phase included a 5,500 square-foot convenience store and 1,600 square-foot gas station and will eventually include mixed-use and retail space as well as a medical and dental center. Sycuan’s growth has resulted in over 700 new casino and resort jobs.

Over in Anza, the Cahuilla Band of Indians are currently building a new $35.2 million facility to replace their original casino next door. Expected to open this year, the new facility includes a 36,000-square-foot, four-story hotel and will add 50 new jobs. In San Jacinto, the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians opened a new 474,000-square-foot resort casino with 200 rooms.

The collective activity throughout Indian Country demonstrates that the purpose of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is being fulfilled.  Tribes are succeeding in building strong economies and providing for their members as well as the communities that surround them.

At present, California is home to 65 tribal gaming facilities operated by 63 tribes.  These facilities directly employ 66,000 people, an increase of 3,000 people over this time last year.

You have all heard the economic impact figures . . . $7.8 billion in economic output, $5 billion added to the California economy and $3.3 billion in earnings by California workers. However, those numbers are a few years old and have undoubtedly grown.  It is our job to tell our story and our job to gather this data.  We can’t count on others to do it for us.  And so, I call on all of you to participate in CNIGA’s economic impact report.  We are in the beginning stages of data collection and look forward to updating these numbers to properly illustrate the positive economic impact tribal governments have on their members and communities.  This is only possible if you participate.  Remember, when we work together, we are unstoppable.

Though it might sound cliché, in unity we are indeed much stronger.  California’s tribes have done amazing things when there is a unity of purpose. California’s 110 federally recognized tribes, easily the most of any state in the nation, represent a staggering array of disparate cultures, languages and territories. As such a diverse group we will only rarely have 100% agreement on any given issue. But it’s important to earn broad consensus on matters that affect us all and that we come together in the face of external and existential threats.

I will not mince words, we are the survivors of a genocide and it is because of the resilience and determination of our ancestors that we are even here today. When tribes united, we reversed the termination era, solidifying then, and hopefully forever, a collection of sovereign governments within the framework of the United States who justly enjoy the rights and privileges that entails.

Although we maintained our sovereignty, given the remote nature of the lands that we were forced to accept, we still had little economic recourse. So again, tribes banded together, starting right here in California with the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians as well as my own Morongo Band of Mission Indians, to fight for our right to conduct gaming on our own lands. It was because of this larger unity of purpose, that we fought the state of California all the way to the Supreme Court where we came out victorious and changed the course of Indian Country forever. When we again faced hostility, tribes united to get Propositions 5 and 1A passed, the latter of which enshrined our exclusive right to conduct Class III gaming in the California Constitution.

This is not meant to be a history lesson; rather, it is to be reminded of past lessons and experiences to illuminate a path forward into the future.  While those fights had their dissenters, and we must make clear that we respect the rights of any individual tribe to dissent, there was again a larger unity of purpose. And now, just as it has been since time immemorial, there are threats and opportunities for tribes and our industry that call for tribal unity.

Primary among these opportunities is sports wagering. Since the U.S. Supreme Court authorized states to legalize sports betting in 2018, it was widely expected that California would permit the practice. Since tribes have exclusive rights to Class III gaming, it is not unreasonable to expect that legalization involve us.  The question then is, what will it look like for California as a whole? Any expansion of gaming should be approached with caution and a thorough analysis of the impacts.  While many are focusing on the economic impacts of legalization, it is critical to measure the social impacts as well and make responsible decisions.

We reject calls to legalize the practice online. Make no mistake, tribes could easily profit from a statewide online sports wagering market, but we believe it is at too high a societal cost. Good public policy and maintaining the support of voters is far more important than making a few extra dollars.  Problem gambling proliferation, underage gambling, and threats to established brick and mortar facilities are deep concerns for us and the voters that must not be taken lightly.

With the passage of Proposition 1A, tribes secured the exclusive right to offer Class III gaming on tribal lands.  For decades, racetracks in California have been permitted to engage in pari-mutual racing, a form of sports wagering.  As such, it was rational that these two entities be permitted to engage in sports wagering.

Limiting the practice to existing brick and mortar facilities accomplishes many things.  First, it guarantees that the activities will be offered by licensed establishments who have a long history of regulatory compliance.  Second, it guarantees that remote communities who surround our tribal reservations continue to benefit from the positive economic impact that tribal government gaming brings to rural regions all across California. And most importantly, it provides safeguards for problem gambling and underage gambling prevention.

No other gaming entity has done more to address problem gambling than California’s tribal governments.  Through our compacts, tribal governments contribute $8.2 million a year to the California Department of Health for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling.  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what other gaming entities in California contribute on an annual basis.  The state lottery contributes only $139,000.  California cardrooms pay a mere $189,000 per year.  Let me state that again, $189,000 per year from an industry that is currently touting economic activity of $5 billion, yes Billion.  To put that into perspective, the largest cardroom in the world resides right here in California; the Commerce Casino, who operates 270 tables, pays a meager $27,000 a year to address problem gambling.

We recently heard from the California Gaming Association – the cardroom coalition - that the proposed sports wagering initiative does not go far enough to address problem gambling.  This is laughable.  Tribes have a proven record of spending our government revenue to address this issue; we hope cardrooms will do the same with their commercial profits.

Strong public policy and responsible government gaming are driving factors in Indian Country.   It is for this reason that I am honored to announce that the California Nations Indian Gaming Association has officially endorsed the tribal initiative to legalize sports wagering.  We believe this is the most responsible approach for both tribal governments and the state of California.

Our casinos fund government programs such as housing, healthcare, education and general welfare for our members.  Every government has a budget.  The state of California currently has an overall operating budget of $215 billion.  Like tribal government gaming revenue, these funds are not profit, it is revenue that is used to provide for the citizens of California.  Tribes will do nothing to jeopardize our government revenue which is why strong regulation is so important.

We all know that tribal gaming is regulated on three separate, but distinct levels.  Each of these entities, the tribal gaming agencies, the state of California and the National Indian Gaming Commission work to ensure a well- regulated tribal gaming industry.  Sadly, the same cannot be true for California’s commercial cardrooms.

For nearly two decades, commercial cardrooms in California have been engaged in activities that violate state gaming laws and have exploited a poor regulatory environment to increase their revenues.  But don’t take my word on that, just google raids on California cardrooms and you will find a litany of regulatory violations.  Recently, we saw the California Attorney General levy a fine in the amount of $3.8 million, the largest fine in state history, to the Hawaiian Gardens cardroom for repeated anti-money laundering violations and misleading regulators in the licensing process.  This fine was on top of the $2.8 million penalty imposed by the US Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, imposed two months earlier for failure to follow terms of the Bank Secrecy Act, a federal law meant to counteract money laundering and fraud.

In 1996 FinCEN announced a plan to more tightly regulate cash transactions at California cardrooms and tribal casinos.  At the time of this announcement, then-California Attorney General Dan Lungren said, “The Treasury Department's effort to clamp down on the potential money laundering problem in California's cardrooms is certainly welcome," said Lungren. "Just three years ago, Treasury officials identified California's cardrooms as the single largest potential for organized crime infiltration. This step should help to limit organized crime's reach into the industry."

That was 30 years ago.  Sadly, this did not influence the activities of California’s cardrooms.  FinCEN violations have become part of the gaming environment when talking about cardrooms.  Their blatant disregard of the laws put in place to protect Californians is disgraceful.  When announcing the fine against Hawaiian Gardens, Attorney General Becerra stated that Hawaiian Gardens admitted that the violations span for a period of seven years.  It is hard to believe that a reputable gaming entity would overlook an important law meant to protect against organized crime, the funding of terrorist activities and fraud for a period of seven consecutive years.

Let me make one thing very clear . .  tribal calls for a strong, well-regulated gaming industry apply to all sectors of the industry.  We are not singling out card clubs and have no desire to put anyone out of business.  What we want, and expect, is that every sector of the gaming industry be held accountable and the laws that exist be enforced. Here in California our Constitution is clear.  Tribes have the exclusive right to slot machines and banked and percentage card games.

Yet, we see cardrooms playing various forms of house banked games every day.  The use of proposition players to serve as the bank has proliferated into a multi-million dollar industry, in some instances one cardroom funds the others proposition players and vice versa.  I could go on and on, but we have a general session panel coming up that will dive into additional details.

Folks, the law is the law and we will resist any attempt to dilute the laws that have been set in place to protect our facilities, our patrons and the state of California.

Tribes have a great stake in ensuring a fair and prosperous future in California. Ours is a unique industry, one rooted to our lands and our culture. Ours is not an itinerant group of random individuals seeking fortune that come to an area to set up shop and then move down the road when the money is made and the grass over the next hill is greener. We are right where we have always been since time immemorial. Ours is an industry based on the inherent sovereign rights of our governments. We are proud that our industry has brought commerce to otherwise remote areas and provided a way for tens of thousands of our California neighbors to put down deep roots in these communities as well. This is what works best, tribe helping tribe and neighbor helping neighbor. We face challenges ahead, but we are each rooted to this place. The best and only way to get through these challenges is together.

Thank you for your time and welcome to the WIGC!

#   #   #