Governor Newsom blasts ‘arbitrary’ DOI rejection of California Tribal-State Class III compacts

California’s Governor Gavin Newsom has hit back at the US Department of Interior following its decision to disapprove a series of class III gaming compacts with two tribal authorities
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California’s Governor Newsom has hit back at the US Department of Interior following its decision to disapprove a series of class III gaming compacts with two tribal authorities. 

The compacts in question had been signed with the Santa Rosa Indian Community of the Santa Rancheria and the Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians.

Newsom labeled the decision as ‘arbitrary’, noting that the compacts were ‘in compliance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act’, providing economic benefits to both the tribes and minimizing impacts on local communities. 

Newsom’s previous agreements

Last year, Gov. Newsom’s office alerted the public that agreements were reached with several tribes including with the Cahto Tribe of the Laytonville Rancheria, the Ewiiaapaayp Band of Kumeyaay Indians, the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, the Resighini Rancheria, the Sherwood Valley Rancheria of Pomo Indians and the Table Mountain Rancheria.

The deals were said to ‘respect the parties’ interest in improving the quality of life of tribal members through a framework that generates revenue for governmental programs’.

Then, in March, the governor’s office confirmed that it had signed the compacts in question with the Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi Yokut and Middletown Rancheria tribes. 

Said to reflect the office’s commitment to tribal economic development, the compacts aimed to ‘support tribal government investment in expanded tribal government services, local jurisdictions, and non-profit and civic organizations for improved fire and emergency medical services, law enforcement, public transit, education, housing, environmental protection, tourism and other service and infrastructure improvements.’

However, the US DOI has disapproved the compacts which will deny the tribes to offer casino-style gambling options such as slot machines, roulette and craps. 

‘Disregarding the interest of the tribes’

Responding to the DOI’s decision, Newsom released a statement reading: “This is the second time that the US Department of the Interior has arbitrarily disapproved gaming compacts with the Santa Rosa Indian Community of the Santa Rosa Rancheria and the Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians. 

“These compacts were carefully negotiated by the state and the tribes in compliance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, providing the tribes the economic benefits of gaming while mitigating impacts to local communities.”

The statement continued: “Despite the tribes’ efforts to meet with Interior and changes negotiated with the State of California to address concerns expressed by Interior, the Department chose to disregard the interests of the tribes and arbitrarily disapprove the compacts. 

“The disapprovals threaten the ability of these and other tribes to invest and maintain jobs in many of California’s economically disadvantaged communities. The State of California will continue working with Santa Rosa Rancheria and Middletown Rancheria to rectify this decision and avoid its negative impacts.”

Tribal response

It is not just the governor’s office that expressed disappointment with the DOI’s decision to disapprove of the compacts. 

Leo Sisco, Chairman of the Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi Yokut Tribe, warned that the economic impact of the decision on the tribe will be ‘chilling’ and ‘irreparable’. 

He added: “Our compact, which has broad support from local and state officials, was the key to improved housing, healthcare, and economic self-sufficiency for our tribe. 

“Now, with the disapproval of the compact by the US Department of Interior, our tribe will not have the resources to expand the Tachi Palace Casino that would have created new living wage jobs; and benefited an ailing local economy. 

“The chilling effect this decision will have in Indian Country is immeasurable and the financial cost to our tribe will be irreparable.”


Jose Simon, Chairman of Middletown Rancheria, also decried the DOI’s latest move, noting that Secretary Haaland had ‘betrayed the tribes’. 

He praised Governor Newsom’s actions for signing the Class III gaming compacts, which added to the goodwill made when he apologized for the historical mistreatment of tribes. 

However, following the collapse, Simon conceded that such moves are something that the tribes ‘have come to expect’ from the federal government in a scathing attack on the government department and Secretary Haaland. 

He concluded: “The US Department of Interior’s disapproval of our compact is shocking given that we worked closely with Secretary Haaland’s department to find an agreeable middle ground between the State of California and Interior.

“While California has taken great steps forward, sadly, the betrayal we feel from Secretary Haaland is something we have come to expect from the federal government. The path forward is now paved with stones that will make it difficult to navigate our tribe’s future.”