Court OKs Big Lagoon Casino

There may be an Indian casino coming to rural Big Lagoon near Trinidad in Humboldt County, despite opposition from the state of California.

An 11-judge panel of the  9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday held the state failed to negotiate in good faith over the Big Lagoon Rancheria and a tribe’s proposal to build a casino and hotel on the land.

The undeveloped, picturesque coastal lagoon has been the center of a six-year battle over construction of an Indian gaming casino in the area.

The ruling upholds a trial court ruling that ordered the state to reach a gaming deal with the rancheria and agreed with the trial judge’s selection of a mediator who chose the Big Lagoon proposal as the one to govern gaming there.

“All that remains is for the mediator to notify the Secretary of the Interior of his selection, and, if the Secretary of the Interior approves the compact, Big Lagoon Rancheria will be authorized to build the casino and engage in the gaming that it seeks,” wrote Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain for the panel.

California reluctantly entered into a deal to allow Big Lagoon Rancheria to operate a casino on the parcel in Humboldt County after U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken sided with the rancheria.

But the state continued to oppose the casino at the site of the lagoon. Its latest appeal was a challenge to challenge federal recognition of the 28-member tribe and allotment of land to them, which dates back potentially to 1904, but at least to 1968.

The original three-judge panel held that California did not violate the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act by failing to negotiate a tribal-state gaming compact.  The panel held the tribe did not have jurisdiction over Indian lands in question.

In January 2014, the three-judge panel reversed Wilken in a 2-1 vote saying Big Lagoon could not demand negotiations on a parcel that was not Indian land.

The full 9th Circuit then voted for the 11-judge panel to reconsider.

Case: Big Lagoon Rancheria v. State of California, No. 10-17803

Three Judge opinion: Big Lagoon Rancheria v. State of California, No. 10-17803



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