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Navajo Bingo No-Go

Even Utah’s Indian reservations aren’t immune to Utah’s gambling laws.

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In 1987, the Court ruled in California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians that, as sovereign political entities, American Indian tribes may operate gaming facilities free of state regulation. In response, the states, wanting to tax American Indian gaming revenues, lobbied federal government to allow regulation, leading Congress to pass the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988. The act states tribes can operate gaming facilities on reservation land provided the state already allows some form of gaming.

Now, well over 200 of the 562 tribes in the United States operate casinos, which produce billions of dollars and employ many tribal members, thus improving the quality of life on those reservations. But, since gaming is illegal in Utah, our tribes are out of luck.

“It’s really sad,” says Kenneth Maryboy, San Juan County Commissioner and Navajo Nation Councilman. It’s a real struggle for the Utah Navajos, because we’re sort of like a stepchild to both sides of the government.” He says the Navajo Nation, headquartered in Window Rock, Ariz., “doesn’t want a whole lot to do with us as Utah Navajos,” although Utah Navajos' oil revenues inject about $250,000 into the Nation’s coffers.

Meanwhile, since November 2008, the Navajo Nation has enjoyed revenues generated by its first gaming facility, Fire Rock Navajo Casino in Gallup, N.M. Nation President Joe Shirley told the Gallup Independent that within five months, Fire Rock was the most successful Indian casino in the state, and announced plans for three more. “It’s really hard [to watch],” says Maryboy, “for those of us trying to make it into the economic mainstream.”

Maryboy says Utah Navajos are pursuing a class II gaming facility—a bingo hall—at Montezuma Creek near the Four Corners area, but so far, state government balks at the plan. “The legal opinion is that Utah is a non-gaming state, therefore, they can’t show anyone special treatment; they have to abide by the law. If that’s the case, then why are there bingo establishments in Salt Lake City? What makes that different?

“So, it’s quite sad … but that doesn’t mean that we’re gonna [give up]," Maryboy says. We’re very eager to develop and further this endeavor. The Utah Navajo don’t want to depend on the government. We want to be self-sufficient.”

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