March 2012

Different Nations, Different Rules

by Fred Gebhart

Legalities governing gaming, taxation, land use—not to mention contracting for events—that can affect meetings and events held in Native American properties are based on sovereignty. Tribal lands are independent nations.

Sovereignty is based on the U.S. Constitution, which put Indian Tribes on a similar footing as foreign nations and the individual states. Casino-by-casino details are set by pacts hammered out between individual states and tribes.

Carlos Murillo, director of sales at the Morongo Casino Resort in Palm Springs, says the Morongo Band of Mission Indians allows him significant flexibility to negotiate contract terms, but no room for special consideration when it comes to sovereignty.

That means, for example, that the possibility of settling disputes in the planner’s home jurisdiction is out. Any legal matters must be settled in Riverside County, Calif., the Morongo’s home jurisdiction. Choice of legal venue is a sovereignty issue, Murillo says, and not negotiable.

Sovereignty also can affect taxation. Native American operations on tribal lands are generally exempt from sales taxes, transient occupancy taxes and other state or local levies, notes a tribal resort sales executive, who requests not to be named after pointing out that planners may—or may not—see potential savings.

Some resorts pass their tax exemption along by charging tax-free rates. In other words, that $150 room is billed at $150 flat, not $150 plus sales-and-bed-tax. Other resorts plow monies collected into tribal tourism development while still others look at the earnings as additional profit. Planners should ask about this before signing on the dotted line.


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