California v. Cabazon Band of Indians,
480 U.S. 202 (1987)

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U.S. Supreme Court

California v. Cabazon Band of Indians, 480 U.S. 202 (1987)

California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians

No. 85-1708

Argued December 9, 1986

Decided February 25, 1987

480 U.S. 202


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.


1. Although state laws may be applied to tribal Indians on their reservations if Congress has expressly consented, Congress has not done so here either by Pub. L. 280 or by the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 (OCCA). Pp. 480 U. S. 207-214.

(a) In Pub.L. 280, the primary concern of which was combating lawlessness on reservations, California was granted broad criminal jurisdiction over offenses committed by or against Indians within all Indian country within the State but more limited, nonregulatory civil jurisdiction. When a State seeks to enforce a law within an Indian reservation under the authority of Pub.L. 280, it must be determined whether the state law is criminal in nature, and thus fully applicable to the reservation, or civil in nature and applicable only as it may be relevant to private civil litigation in state court. There is a fair basis for the Court of Appeals' conclusion that California's statutes which permits bingo games to be conducted only by certain types of organizations under certain restrictions, is not a "criminal/prohibitory" statute falling within Pub.L. 280's grant of criminal jurisdiction, but instead is a "civil/regulatory" statute not authorized by Pub.L. 280 to be enforced on Indian reservations. That an otherwise regulatory law is enforceable (as here) by

Page 480 U. S. 203

criminal as well as civil means does not necessarily convert it into a criminal law within Pub.L. 280's meaning.

(b) Enforcement of OCCA, which makes certain violations of state and local gambling laws violations of federal criminal law, is an exercise of federal, rather than state, authority. There is nothing in OCCA indicating that the States are to have any part in enforcing the federal laws or are authorized to make arrests on Indian reservations that, in the absence of OCCA, they could not effect. California may not make arrests on reservations and thus, through OCCA, enforce its gambling laws against Indian tribes. Pp. 480 U. S. 207-212.

2. Even though not expressly authorized by Congress, state and local laws may be applied to on-reservation activities of tribes and tribal members under certain circumstances. The decision in this case turns on whether state authority is preempted by the operation of federal law. State jurisdiction is preempted if it interferes or is incompatible with federal and tribal interests reflected in federal law, unless the state interests at stake are sufficient to justify the assertion of state authority. The federal interests in Indian self-government, including the goal of encouraging tribal self-sufficiency and economic development, are important, and federal agencies, acting under federal laws, have sought to implement them by promoting and overseeing tribal bingo and gambling enterprises. Such policies and actions are of particular relevance in this case, since the tribal games provide the sole source of revenues for the operation of the tribal governments, and are the major sources of employment for tribal members. To the extent that the State seeks to prevent all bingo games on tribal lands while permitting regulated off-reservation games, the asserted state interest in preventing the infiltration of the tribal games by organized crime is irrelevant, and the state and county laws are preempted. Even to the extent that the State and county seek to regulate short of prohibition, the laws are preempted, since the asserted state interest is not sufficient to escape the preemptive force of the federal and tribal interests apparent in this case. Pp. 480 U. S. 214-222.

783 F.2d 900, affirmed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which O'CONNOR and SCALIA, JJ., joined, post, p. 480 U. S. 222.

Page 480 U. S. 204

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