California: Ninth Circuit hands Jamul tribe a positive ruling over sovereignty Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports · September 14, 2020 at 7:00 am A Southern California Indian tribe won a favorable ruling in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last week that it hopes will end a seven-year-old legal dispute over its designation as a federally recognized tribe with the rights to open a casino on its native land. The ruling, by a three-judge panel, was hailed by Chairwoman Erica M. Pinto of San Diego’s Jamul Indian Village as “the right result and a win for Indian country.” The legal dispute, filed by a group called the Jamul Action Committee (JAC) in 2013, sought to halt the development and construction of the tribe’s casino in eastern San Diego County by calling into question both the tribe’s designation and make-up. The Jamul tribe, in conjunction with regional gaming operator Penn National Gaming, opened the Hollywood Casino Jamul-San Diego in 2016 after a California federal judge tossed the JAC’s legal claims against the tribe and Penn National. The court found the lawsuit was barred by the tribe’s sovereign immunity. That same year, former California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a 25-year gambling compact with the tribe. The Jamul Tribe took over the operations of the facility 19 months after it opened, renaming the property Jamul Casino. Erica M. Pinto, Jamul chairwoman In the ruling filed last Tuesday, the judges dismissed the numerous legal actions brought by the JAC over the years, saying “no tribunal” has accepted the committee’s argument and that the Jamul Tribe was “a federally recognized Indian tribe with the same privileges and immunities, including tribal sovereign immunity, that other federally recognized Indian tribes possess.” Pinto, in a statement, said the tribe was “thrilled” by the Ninth Circuit’s decision, “but not surprised,” adding the court found “no legal basis for any differentiation” between Jamul and any other federally recognized tribe. “We hope, as the Ninth Circuit does, that this case will finally put an end to the over 40 different lawsuits that we have defended against over the decades,” Pinto said. “For our tribe, we’re hoping this decision helps put this issue to rest so we and our neighbors can focus on economic recovery and support of the greater Jamul community during these difficult times.” The JAC is made up of residents in the somewhat rural community, 20 miles east of downtown San Diego, that has long opposed the casino. The judges wrote that despite losing arguments over tribal sovereignty “before administrative agencies, state courts, and federal courts around the country since the early 1990s,” the JAC continued to press the issue. JAC sued the National Indian Gaming Commission and the U.S. Department of the Interior, in addition to the tribe and Penn National. The judges said in the opinion that “we hope (the ruling) will finally put an end to these claims.” “The distinction JAC urges between historic tribes and other tribal entities organized under the Indian Regulatory Act is without basis in federal law. The village enjoys the same privileges and immunities as other federally recognized Indian tribes, including tribal sovereign immunity.” Jamul Casino sits on a four-acre parcel surrounded by rolling hills, hiking trails, and the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. The property does not have a hotel but includes 200,000 square feet of public space with 1,700 slot machines, 50 live gaming tables, a poker room, and eight different restaurants, including a food court. A sports bar is dedicated to the late San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn. Like most of California’s Indian casinos, Jamul reopened in May following a nearly two-month closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. The casino is currently operating under COVID-19 health, safety, and cleaning guidelines established by the tribe. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.