Bated breath and the Supreme Court
Everyone milled about anxiously, waiting with bated breath to hear if today would be the day that the Supreme Court handed down their decision on ObamaCare, or perhaps Arizona’s law regarding illegal aliens. But alas, it was not to be. With a giant exhale on the order of the massive toilet flush after the last episode of M*A*S*H (yes, that epic flush really did drop a reservoir 27 feet), the disappointed court-watchers went home to wait until Thursday, the next round of breath-bating.
That means they missed something kind of important. Rather, it is something important if you live in a state that has Indian tribes.
The case is Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians v. Patchak. One Mr. David Patchak claimed that turning what is known as the Bradley Tract, in Wayland township, Michigan, into an Indian casino would result in economic, environmental, and aesthetic harm. The tribe’s and the government’s defense was that the provisions of the Indian Relocation Act barred lawsuits intended to prevent putting land in trust and its ultimate development. The Supreme Court held that the Department of the Interior cannot take land into the reservation system without considering its intended end use, and any objections to that use.
More simply put, they said the guy living next to a piece of land where somebody wants to build a big shiny twinkling 24-hour casino sure DOES have standing to sue to stop it, even if that “somebody” is an Indian tribe.
Now, I believe in allowing people as much freedom as possible regarding land-use issues. But some people will push the boundaries, and that’s why we give them their day in court. I certainly wouldn’t want the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Casino moving in next door, and more than I would want a sewage treatment plant moving in next door. (One controversial land use in my neighborhood is churches. We are all on an acre or more, so buying one of the houses and turning it into a place of worship is very popular. That, I have no objection to. Churches are great neighbors. They keep the property up nicely, they don’t use it much, and you don’t have to worry about feral cats or barking dogs. Especially at the Korean Baptist church. I kid, I kid.)
The decision went 8-1, with Justice Kagan writing for the majority, and Justice Sotomayor dissenting all by herself. I know. I was shocked, too.
This case has enormous implications locally. The Tohono O’odham Nation wants to build a casino in Glendale, Arizona, right across the street from the football stadium and the white elephant… er, hockey arena. Several parties have objected, and knowing that they will not be dismissed out of hand as lacking standing makes filing suits to protect their interests all the more likely.
That’s where it gets somewhat complicated. The state doesn’t want it built, because the ballot initiative that allowed gaming compacts with Indian tribes requires that no more tribes be added to the cornucopia of gaming compacts already in place, except by modifying the voter-approved initiative. This was supposed to prevent a proliferation of gambling, as well as casinos in urban areas. Like most well-intentioned efforts, it didn’t quite work out that way. There is a huge casino practically in Scottsdale. Oops. In any case, the state is suing the Tohono O’odhams because this casino is not part of the existing compacts.
The Gila River and Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indians are suing because they don’t want more casinos and the competition they will bring to the tribes’ existing ventures. I am less sympathetic to that argument. It’s like KMart suing to keep Wal-Mart out. Competition is good for the consumer.
I know there are also some anti-gambling groups either in litigation or intending to be. I would imagine there are also some folks with residential property in the general vicinity of the proposed casino who don’t believe it is the very best idea they’ve ever heard as well. Casinos can bring crime, traffic, and wholesale changes to neighborhoods. They do supposedly bring economic benefit, though. A city planning and zoning committee’s job is to weigh conflicting interests.
I say they “supposedly” bring economic benefit because with Indian casinos, I am not convinced. They do pay something to the state of Arizona, but it’s nowhere near the normal tax rate. (How awesome would it be to get to negotiate your own tax rate?!?!) Is what they contribute more than what they require in public services? Keep in mind that casinos attract visitors, which include everything from nice elderly widows to addicted gamblers who will stop at nothing to get their “fix.” I’m sure the businesses in the general area love the little old ladies, and hate the gaming junkies. They have some cost-benefit analysis of their own to do before deciding if they support a casino in their midst.
On a more fundamental level, I simply don’t “get” Indian gaming. More to the point, I don’t get why anyone would go to their casinos. In Las Vegas and Atlantic City, gambling is very tightly controlled by the state. The house pays a certain minimum percentage out to the players, and cheating by the house just doesn’t happen. Indian casinos are a whole ‘nother story. It’s mostly slots, and the payouts are paltry. You can’t even come close to breaking even, let alone going home money to the good. Why on Earth would anyone gamble at an Indian casino in Arizona when Las Vegas is a 40 minute plane ride away?
I guess people don’t think about stuff like that when they are all mesmerized by the spinning wheels, flashing lights, and obnoxious noise. Maybe the solution here is competition as well. The state could authorize three casinos on non-Indian land, one in Tucson, one in Phoenix, and one in Flagstaff. Run them like they run the casinos in Vegas, and then watch people running for the doors of the Indian casinos. The Indians could either fix their business model to be fair and competitive, or they could shut down. No skin off my dupa either way, since I choose not to patronize their businesses.
Anyway, I’ve been watching the AZcentral.com website all morning to see if any of their intrepid reporters have picked up on this Supreme Court decision that is a Very Big Deal for the supporters and detractors of the Tohono O’odham Nation casino. Alas, they have been scooped by a civilian.
The moral of the story is: Sometimes forests and trees and bated breath all conspire, and you miss something important. Those other decisions are coming. Don’t skip the good stuff while you wait for them.