First Los Angeles Casino A Possibility With Tribe’s Bid For Federal Recognition

Written By Adam Hensley on December 27, 2023
Photo of the skyline of Los Angeles, where a new bill paves the way for the county's first tribal casino

The Gabrielino/Tongva Nation is pushing for a 300-acre reservation in California, and in turn, it may end up leading to the first Los Angeles casino.

On Dec. 19, US Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove submitted a bill that would recognize the tribe federally and essentially expedite the process. Normally, the tribe would need to go through a federal petition process that could take years.

This bill, though, skips past that. And it allows for the Gabrielino/Tongva Nation to indulge in economic ventures, such as constructing a casino.

A Los Angeles casino would be huge

Golden State customers love their California tribal casinos.

There are 85 tribal casinos within the state that contribute $19 billion annually to California’s economy, according to the American Gaming Association. Those casinos generate almost $9 billion in gross gaming revenue and $3.5 billion in taxes each year.

Having a tribal casino in Los Angeles County would definitely boost these numbers. And it would be a major win for the Gebrielino/Tongva Nation.

Closest tribal casino to Los Angeles is …

Currently, the closest tribal casino to Los Angeles is Yaamava’ Resort & Casino in Highland, which is north of Riverside and about an hour’s drive from Los Angeles. The next closest is Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula — about an hour-and-a-half southeast of Los Angeles.

Those two are among the biggest casinos in Southern California. In fact, Yaamava’ is the biggest on the West Coast.

There are a handful of gambling facilities in Los Angeles County, but they are all card rooms, which can only legally offer poker and modified table games.

What’s next for the Gabrielino/Tongva tribe?

The bill must pass through both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. President Joe Biden must also approve.

Should the bill pass, up to 300 acres of land will be taken into trust by the Department of Interior on behalf of the Gabrielino/Tongva Nation. That land will then be regulated under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

“I want to thank Congresswoman Kamlager-Dove for this gift,” said Gabrielino/Tongva Nation chairwoman Sadonne Goad told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s overwhelming, exciting, and full of joy.”

Potential Los Angeles casino could pay off in the long run for the tribe

Pastor William D. Smart Jr. is one of the main supporters of this new bill. He’s the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California.

A casino – especially the first tribal facility in the Los Angeles area – will certainly be a hot commodity. But Smart believes a casino’s dollars will also go a long way to helping the community.

“What I like about this tribe having the right to build a casino is that it could provide a stable economic future with health benefits, student scholarships and decent homes,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s about time.”

The bill is more than just a path for a casino in Los Angeles

Reaching federally recognized status would be huge for the tribe. Tribes that fall under this category do not pay taxes. Tribes also receive full service from local law enforcement and fire departments. These groups are also able to benefit from federal assistance from legal programs. 

Kamlager-Dove understands that when this bill surfaced, all eyes were on the possibility of a new casino. But it’s more than that.

“Although the excitement is about a casino, for me this is a story about Gabrielino identity and land equity, and the opportunity to right a federal wrong,” she told the Los Angeles Times.

The Gabrielino/Tongva Nation’s ancestors were among the first to call the Los Angeles Basin home. Being recognized federally is a big step in the group’s history and a boost moving forward.

“This community has almost been denied its ability to exist because it doesn’t have federal recognition, which brings many kinds of protection and support,” Kamlager-Dove told the Los Angeles Times. “It has been waiting a long time for this.”

Photo by AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
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Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley is a journalist with experience covering online sports betting and gambling across Catena Media. His byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network.

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