Gambling More Than Just Money?...Legal Rights You May Be Giving Up
When Gambling On Indian Reservations
If you enjoy gambling as much as I do, you have probably decided to save the time of traveling to Las Vegas and test your luck at an Indian Casino. Upon entering the doors of the Indian Casino, you quickly forget that you are just miles from your home. The look, the smells and the sounds make you feel like you have been transported to Las Vegas in the blink of an eye. Most Indian Casinos have luxurious accommodations, delicious food, relaxing spas and a plethora of gaming options.
There is one fact, however, that most people are not cognizant of when entering into the Vegas like Indian Casinos: Indian Casinos have sovereign immunity similar to that of the United States Government. This means that if anything happens on the Indian Casino premises, you are unable to immediately seek the assistance of the state court. The Indian Casinos enact their own Tort Claims Ordinance, which must comply with Section 10.2(d) of the Class III gaming compact between the Indian Tribe and the State of California. Each Ordinance must also be approved by the Secretary of the Interior.
The Ordinance provides patrons with a limited waiver of immunity and lays out the policies and procedures to seek monetary damages from the Indian Casinos. It is interesting to point out that most Tort Claims Ordinances sets a time limit for filing a claim with the Tribal Counsel vis-à-vis a state's statute of limitations. On the surface, it is comforting to know that the Indian Casinos provide patrons with the means of seeking damages for certain acts that occur in the Indian Casinos. However, that comfort quickly dissipates if you experience the unfortunate luck of getting injured in an Indian Casino. Those of you who have gone through the process can relate to what I am writing about.
After closely reading an unnamed Indian Casino's Tort Claim Ordinance, I quickly realized that an injured patron is at the mercy of the very entity that patron is seeking damages from. Imagine for a second that you get in a car accident and you are required to ask the very person who hits you, if you can sue them, what procedures you must follow and how much you can recover. Admittedly, the analogy is a bit deceiving; however, it is not far from the truth.
After filing a claim with the unnamed Indian Casino, you must patiently wait for the Tribal Counsel to certify your claim. If your claim is rejected for a procedural deficiency, you must appeal to the Tribal Gaming Agency. You are jointly responsible for the expense of the appeal. Further, you are not entitled to an evidentiary hearing on appeal.
If your claim is certified, the Tribal Gaming Agency can decide the claim by making findings of fact and conclusions of law, thereafter recommending a decision to the Tribal Counsel. In state court, claims above $25,000.00 are given wide latitude of pre-trial discovery. However, this Tort Claim Ordinance grants the claimant only "limited pre-hearing discovery." At the conclusion of the hearing, the Tribal Gaming Agency, or Tribal Counsel, awards amounts they found "justly due to Claimant."
Think about it for a second…the Tribal Counsel determines how much the Indian Casino will pay you for injuries sustained in the Indian Casino. You are not entitled to have a jury of your peers listen to the evidence and determine a fair amount of damages you are entitled to in order to compensate you for your medical expenses, pain and suffering, etc.
The pain and suffering at this unnamed Indian Casino is self limited to $300,000.00. While people have certainly heard in the news about multi-million dollar personal injury awards, this is not possible if injured in the Indian Casino. As I mentioned above, you are at the mercy of the very entity that is responsible for your injuries.
Is it worth avoiding the inconvenience of traveling to Las Vegas and gambling at an Indian Casino, to satisfy your urge to gamble? When going to an Indian Casino, are you gambling more than just money?
I do not have the answer to those questions, nor am I suggesting that gamblers like myself, should stay away from Indian Casinos. I simply wrote this article to shed some light on and share my opinion of a fact I never considered…that a patron at an Indian Casino may unknowingly give up legal rights.