The rules are different on American Indian reservations. Visitors may play slot machines. The legal landscape is different.
But not everything is different. Like every other business that sells alcohol in California, casino owners have to answer to the ABC.
More formally known as the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the state agency has the power to give or withhold liquor licenses.
The fact that tribes sell to the general public is a key reason that the ABC gets involved, says Robin Van Dyke, district supervisor for the ABC in San Marcos. “If they weren’t selling to the general public, they wouldn’t have to do anything,” said Van Dyke.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling in 1982 that state and local law enforcement have jurisdiction when it comes to enforcement of alcoholic beverage laws on tribal reservations, says John Carr, spokesman for the ABC in Sacramento.
The majority of the 10 American Indian casinos in San Diego County sell alcohol.
But Sycuan Casino, on the Sycuan reservation east of El Cajon, does not serve liquor. However, another Sycuan enterprise just west of the reservation, the Sycuan Resort (formerly known as Singing Hills), has a liquor license.
The Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino limits alcohol sales to certain areas of its facility. A representative from the San Diego ABC office was not available for comment on the specifics of Barona’s license.
According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, an administrative law judge ruled in October that Barona may keep its liquor license, despite the objection of neighbors and county officials. The newspaper reported that the casino’s neighbors feel people who have been drinking should not drive on Wildcat Canyon Road, the winding road that leads to and from the casino.
Indeed, overseeing an enterprise that serves alcohol can bring headaches to managers and tribal governments.
The Pechanga Band of Luise & #324;o Indians, which has a casino-resort outside Temecula, says an alcohol-related problem led it to close two of its nightclubs in mid-March.
“Tribal leaders have determined that an unacceptable number of incidents involving alcohol consumption have occurred at Pechanga Resort & Casino,” said a statement issued March 20 by Amy Minniear, president of Pechanga Development Corp.
“For the tribe,” the statement continued, “the safety of guests, tribal members and team members is paramount.
An official with the ABC’s Riverside office says the shutdown was voluntary and the ABC was not involved.
There are other aspects that separate California casinos from their Las Vegas cousins.
A representative of Harrah’s, the management company that runs the on-reservation casino for the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians, says that under ABC rules, her casino cannot offer complimentary drinks. The rule against free drinks is uniform throughout California, says the ABC’s Carr.