SACRAMENTO (CN) – Jamul Indians may continue building a mega-casino near San Diego despite opposition from a Christian church, which claimed the site was not on a reservation, a federal judge ruled.
The Jamul Action Committee and Jamul Community Church sued the Department of the Interior and National Indian Gaming Commission in 2013. They contested a gaming commission finding that the Jamul Indian Village had “Indian lands” qualified for gambling under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
That decision gave the green light for a 203,000-square-foot mega-casino on 4.7 acres 20 miles east of downtown San Diego.
The $360 million development will include “at least 1,700 slot machines, 50 live table games including poker, multiple restaurants” and parking, court documents state.
Opponents claimed the parcel is not a reservation and does not qualify as Indian lands eligible for gambling.
Specifically, they said, 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 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,” the plaintiffs said.
Federal recognition of the Jamul Indian Village came after 1980. Thus, the parcel is not a reservation as defined in federal law, the opponents claimed.
In a May 15 ruling on a second amended complaint, U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller denied plaintiffs’ requests for a writ of mandate, preliminary injunction and environmental review. Mueller found the defendants were not required to review or approve a management contract before construction of the casino, as the plaintiffs claimed.
“The court is aware of no statute or regulation, and the parties have cited none, that would require the NIGC or BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] to review or approve a management contract before the subject casino is constructed or operated, or to approve construction at all,” Mueller wrote. “To the contrary, the IGRA implies the Tribe may construct and operate a casino on its own land without a management contract.”
Mueller called the plaintiffs’ claims of looming environmental damage, including groundwater depletion, increased pollution and traffic congestion, “speculative.”
“The NIGC has not completed its review, and the Tribe has not begun operating its casino, so any adverse environmental impacts of its operation remain at most speculative,” Mueller said.
Granting the plaintiffs’ motion Mueller said would burden the tribe with “substantial” costs.
“Were the court to grant the motion, the defendants would be enjoined from constructing the casino while the BIA and NIGC complete an environmental review of the contract under which it will be operated, even though the Tribe could not operate the incomplete casino,” the 19-page ruling states. “Such an order would force the tribally affiliated defendants to incur substantial costs. On balance, an order denying the motion will not prevent the JAC from enjoying any rights afforded by the IGRA and NEPA and would avoid significant expense to the tribally affiliated defendants.” (Citations omitted.)
Mueller also said the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the injunction request against five tribe members protected by sovereign immunity.
“Only Indian tribes have the right to regulate gaming activities on Indian lands,” the ruling states.
Jamul Action Committee, a nonprofit group of citizens from in and around Jamul, was formed in the 1980s to oppose a proposed quarry.
“The JAC Board is disappointed by the ruling, but remains confident that compelling legal arguments exist to continue the fight,” JAC President Glenn Revell said.
“We can accept the initial ruling and give in to the suggestion that the proposed casino is a ‘done deal’ or we can place our faith and support in the compelling legal position that will ultimately stop this project forever.”
Revell said the group’s counsel stands ready to “immediately appeal.”
Jamul, pop. 6,200 in 2010, is east of El Cajon, which is east of San Diego.
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