Woman Sues Casino as an Historic First for Indian Tribes

by Hillary LaClair, Senior Editor
February 21, 2009

              While the land casino industry continues to decline, with media outlets reporting Las Vegas as a ghost town in recent months, the last thing the management needs is an injury lawsuit. Perhaps yet another reason why online casino show more growth than land casinos is that there is no physical location for its players to attend, and therefore no accident reports.

                An El Cajon woman recently sued an Indian tribe that according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, “broke new legal ground for personal injury suits against tribes.” A settlement agreement of $500,000 was the result.

                Allegedly, Celest Bluehawk slipped in the Golden Acorn Casino, fell and injured her back on a newly mopped floor some time in 2002. The casino, operated by the Campo Band of Mission Indians, was issued with a summons to court following the accident. The lawsuit eventually led to a ruling in the 4th District Court of Appeals in San Diego. While casinos have faced litigation before for multiple reasons, including gambling addictions and removing an obese man with extremely poor hygiene, this is the first recorded case of justices intervening in a tribal legal matter – ordering the tribe to bring its case to arbitration. The tribe attempted to have the ruling appealed by the Supreme Court, but the court refused to accept the case.

                According to the Tribune, a videotaped showed that the signs indicating a freshly mopped floor were not placed at the scene until after Bluehawk had injured herself. The videotape was not turned over to Busby until 2007, nearly five years after the incident occurred. Apparently, Bluehawk visited the casino, located off of Interstate 8, east of Pine Valley, to gamling in December of 2002 after she finished a shift as a poker dealer in the Viejas casino.

                “They were basically refusing any state court jurisdiction over the case for years, then four years into it the videotape shows the cleaning lady putting out the cones after she was down,” said Busby.

                Indian tribes are insulated from most U.S. legal action because of the doctrine of sovereign immunity – the legal right for governments, and tribes are considered separate governments, to the shielded from lawsuits. Bluehawk had filed a claim with the tribe prior to the lawsuit, but its insurance carrier denied it. Therefore, she turned to the Superior Court in El Cajon, where a judge ordered that it be sent to arbitration.

                Perhaps for cases such as this, many tribes have begun to operate casinos online, such as the Mohawk Gaming group and the Kahnawake Gaming Commission which licenses and regulates such casinos as Party Casino, bet365, Golden Casino Eurogrand, Zodiac Casino Wild Jacks Casino, Vegas Red, and Spin Palace among its 10,758 members.

The Gaming Commission, established in June of 1996, is comprised of three members appointed by the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, and has been given the authority to regulate and control gaming and “gaming related activities” conducted within and from the territory of Kahnawake, Canada. Casino operators can apply for a license by visiting www.kahnawake.com/gamingcommission.

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