Colorado Casino Lawsuit Takes Aim At Tribes

Written By Adam Hensley on 01/19/2023 - Last Updated on January 29, 2023
Maverick Gaming lawsuit challenges tribal gaming

One casino operator is a driving voice in a lawsuit looking to change a tribal sovereignty law. Maverick Gaming, which owns three Colorado casinos, is a part of a case heading to the US Supreme Court.

The company challenges a 2020 law that allows sports betting on tribal lands only in Washington. The lawsuit claims the existing law established a “discriminatory tribal gaming monopoly.”

In addition to the 2020 law creating a monopoly, Maverick Gaming, LLC v. United States, et al. claims the current rules discriminate unconstitutionally against those who run non-tribal casinos.

Maverick Gaming owns and operates three casinos in Colorado.

  1. Grand Z Casino Hotel
  2. Dragon Tiger Casino, both located in Central City
  3. Z Casino in Black Hawk

In total, the company operates 31 casino venues in Colorado, Nevada and Washington state.

Maverick Gaming lawsuit challenges tribal gaming landscape

Daniel Lewerenz, an assistant law professor at the University of North Dakota and an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, questioned the benefits of the suit. He believes it could paint tribes as just “private associations of people with a common racial ancestry” rather than sovereign nations.

In other words, it would strip longstanding power from the tribes. “If that happens, then it’s hard to understand why they would have any governing power, any political power,” he told Underscore.

Maverick Gaming bought roughly half the card rooms in Washington in addition to its locations in Colorado and Nevada back in 2018. Since then, the company used an aggressive approach to back political action favoring sports betting in all casinos – not just tribal-owned facilities.

lawsuit parallels another that challenges tribal preferences

It’s similar to Brackeen v. Haaland, another lawsuit that challenges tribal preferences. This lawsuit goes after the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. The Act requires caseworkers to give preference to Indian families in foster and adoptive placements of children who are a part of federally recognized tribes.

This lawsuit claims the law discriminates on the basis of race in violation of the US Constitution. Should the ruling in Brackeen v. Haaland favor the lawsuit, it could spell big changes for tribal nations across the country, according to journalist Rebecca Nagale. Maverick Gaming, LLC v. United States, et al. could rewrite history as well.

Nagale told Underscore:

“It could have really big impacts on basically every law Congress has passed that has to do with tribes and tribal citizens. It’s really the legal foundation for the rights of Indigenous nations in this country.”

Maverick Gaming’s lawsuit threatens the livelihood of some tribes

According to a press release regarding the lawsuit, Maverick Gaming CEO Eric Persson said he supports tribal sovereignty. He’s a member of the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe, which is located in Washington.

However, according to Larry Kerns, the tribe’s chief financial officer, the lawsuit could threaten the tribe’s efforts to provide certain government services, such as:

  • Education
  • Housing
  • Elder pensions
  • Child-welfare services and more

Additionally, the tribe has been using gaming revenue to buy back its original land. With rising sea levels, the land set aside by the US government for the Shoalwater Tribe is quickly going underwater.

“Gaming funds basically everything,” Kerns told Underscore. “Without it, we’d have to cut our programs by about 70%.”

Revenue allocation main reason for legalizing sports betting

Washington approved sports betting thanks in part to the funding it provides to essential government services. Tribal revenue from gambling goes toward education, natural resources and behavioral health for its citizens.

Similarly, in Centennial State, gambling tax revenue goes toward the Colorado Water Plan. Funds allocated to the project go toward water supply storage, conservation and other areas.

Tribal casinos in Colorado

Both the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe own and operate casinos on their land.

The Ute Mountain Casino was the state’s first tribal-owned operation in 1992. It’s located in Towaoc. The following year, Sky Ute Casino opened in Ignacio.

These tribes do not have to report their revenue to the state and are not subject to taxes, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. They use the same $100 bet limits the other casinos in Colorado adhere to.

Although they can add higher stakes and increase the scope of games.

Photo by PlayColorado
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Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley is a journalist from Des Moines, Iowa, who currently works for the USA Today Network. His byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network. Hensley graduated from the University of Iowa in 2019 and spent his college career working for the Daily Iowan’s sports department, both as an editor and reporter.

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