California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians Case Brief

Facts of the Case

Appellee Indian Tribes (the Cabazon and Morongo Bands of Mission Indians) occupy reservations in Riverside County, Cal. Each Band, pursuant to its federally approved ordinance, conducts on its reservation bingo games that are open to the public. The Cabazon Band also operates a card club for playing draw poker and other card games. The gambling games are open to the public and are played predominantly by non-Indians coming onto the reservations. California sought to apply to the Tribes its statute governing the operation of bingo games. Riverside County also sought to apply its ordinance regulating bingo, as well as its ordinance prohibiting the playing of draw poker and other card games. The Tribes instituted an action for declaratory relief in Federal District Court, which entered summary judgment for the Tribes, holding that neither the State nor the county had any authority to enforce its gambling laws within the reservations. The Court of Appeals affirmed.




No. Justice Byron R. White delivered the opinion for a 6-3 court. State laws require the consent of Congress in order to apply to Indian reservations. While the federal government consented to states enforcing criminal laws on reservation land, gambling regulations are types of civil law and therefore not enforceable. The Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 did not grant states the authority to regulate gambling either. Although the Act incorporated certain state gambling laws into federal laws regulating gambling on reservations, this did not grant states authority to enforce the new federal laws on reservations. Absent explicit permission for regulation, states can only enforce laws on reservations if their interests in regulation outweigh the interests of the federal government and tribal authorities. In this case, gambling provided revenue critical to the economic self-sufficiency of the reservation. Accordingly, the federal government’s interest to ensure Indian self-government outweighed state concerns about organized crime developing because of unregulated reservation gaming.

Case Information

Citation: 480 US 202 (1987)
Argued: Dec 9, 1986
Decided: Feb 25, 1987
Case Brief: 1987