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The state's interest in preventing the infiltration of the tribal bingo enterprises by organized crime does not justify state regulation of the tribal bingo enterprises in light of the compelling federal and tribal interests supporting them. State regulation would impermissibly infringe on tribal government, and this conclusion applies equally to the county's attempted regulation of Native American card clubs.
Appellee Indian Tribes (the Cabazon and Morongo Bands of Mission Indians) occupy reservations in Riverside County, Cal. Each Band, pursuant to its federally approved ordinance, conducts on its reservation bingo games that are open to the public. The Cabazon Band also operates a card club for playing draw poker and other card games. The gambling games are open to the public and are played predominantly by non-Indians coming onto the reservations. California sought to apply to the Tribes its statute governing the operation of bingo games. Riverside County also sought to apply its ordinance regulating bingo, as well as its ordinance prohibiting the playing of draw poker and other card games. The Tribes instituted an action for declaratory relief in Federal District Court, which entered summary judgment for the Tribes, holding that neither the State nor the county had any authority to enforce its gambling laws within the reservations. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
Could the State of California and the County of Riverside enforce their gambling laws against the tribal bingo enterprise?
The Court affirmed, holding that the state's interest in preventing infiltration of organized crime into Native American bingo enterprises did not outweigh the substantial federal and tribal interests supporting tribal bingo enterprises and that state regulation would impermissibly infringe on tribal government. The Court rejected the argument that Congress had consented to state regulation of the bingo games in enacting 18 U.S.C.S. § 1162 and 28 U.S.C.S. § 1360. The Court held that these statutes authorized state enforcement of criminal or prohibitory statutes, but not enforcement of civil or regulatory state law, and that the state's gambling laws were regulatory rather than prohibitory in nature. There was a congressional and presidential policy in favor of Native American economic development, and state regulation of Native American bingo enterprises was contrary to that policy.