Casino Planned for Jamul, CA, Faces Challenge
(CN) - The Jamul Indian tribe cannot build a mega-casino in San Diego because the site was improperly characterized as a reservation, a Christian church claims in Federal Court.
Jamul Action Committee and Jamul Community Church sued the U.S. Department of the Interior and National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), and six officials, in Sacramento.
The plaintiffs - a nonprofit citizen group and Christian church - challenged a gaming commission finding that the Jamul Indian Village (JIV) had "Indian lands" qualified for gambling under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).
That decision gives the green light for the operation of a 203,000-square-foot mega-casino on a 4.66 acre property 20 miles east of downtown San Diego, according to the complaint.
The $360 million development will feature "at least 1,700 slot machines, 50 live table games including poker, multiple restaurants," and parking, the complaint says.
Opponents claim, however, that "the parcel is not a reservation and does not qualify as Indian lands eligible for gambling."
They first allege that the defendants lacked authority to take the parcel in trust for the Jamul Indian Village or to treat it like a reservation under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA).
Though the IRA trusts cover recognized Indian tribes under federal jurisdiction, Supreme Court precedent limits inclusion "to federally recognized tribes that were in existence when the IRA was enacted in 1934," according to the complaint.
Federal recognition of the Jamul Indian Village allegedly came after 1980.
The parcel, the plaintiffs claim, is not a reservation as defined in federal law.
"The defendants have no authority to create a reservation or Indian lands on non-public domain lands within the exterior boundaries of the state of California," the complaint states. "The parcel is not public domain land and is subject to state jurisdiction. The state has not ceded jurisdiction to the JIV or the United States. The defendants' attempt to exempt and remove the parcel from state jurisdiction by characterizing it as a reservation or Indian lands eligible for gambling in the ILD is an abuse of discretion and is arbitrary, capricious and contrary to the law."
Opponents also say that exceptions under the IGRA do not apply to the parcel.
"The defendants' determination in the ILD that the parcel is a reservation, or Indian lands eligible for gaming under IGRA, is not supported by the record," according to the complaint.
Jamul Action Committee, a nonprofit group of citizens from in and around Jamul, Calif., says it is "dedicated to preserving the small-town rural lifestyle of its community."
Approval of the mega-casino will allegedly cause committee environmental, aesthetic, and economic harm.
The groups note that the casino will deplete groundwater, increase pollution, cause traffic congestion, diminish property values and contribute to crime.
As addictions to gambling and alcohol grow, local governments will have to ramp up social and law enforcement services and existing Jamul businesses will suffer, according to the complaint.
Approval of the land determination also violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the groups contend.
The opponents additionally note that the Jamul Indians will find it difficult to support their members with the casino because of its proximity to the same gaming markets served by the Sycuan, Viejas and Campo casinos.
Jamul had a population of 6,163 in 2010.
The named defendants are NIGC Chairwoman Tracie Stevens; Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell; Kevin Washburn, assistant secretary of Indian Affairs; Paula Hart, director of the Office of Indian Gaming; Amy Dutschke, regional director, Bureau of Indian Affairs; and John Rydzik, chief, Division of Environmental, Cultural Resources Management and Safety of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief precluding the implementation of the land determination.
They are represented by Kenneth Williams, of Sacramento, and Patrick Webb with Webb & Carey, of San Diego.