Two decades of Indian gaming

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Native American gambling establishments, which now generate more than $22.8 billion annually in revenue, came into existence after President Ronald Reagan signed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act during 1988.
That law grew out of a 1976 Supreme Court decision, Bryan v. Itasca County.

The Bryans, a Chippewa couple living in a mobile home on an Indian reservation in Minnesota, received a county property tax bill amounting to $147.95. They refused to pay, claiming that the state had no power to levy such a tax.

Rebuffed by state courts, they appealed to the Supreme Court. In a sweeping, unanimous decision written by Justice William Brennan, the Bryans prevailed, and the principles of tribal sovereignty were explicitly upheld by the highest court in the land.

The Bryan case, according to Minnesota historian Kevin Washburn, “… became the cornerstone for the legal principle that states cannot regulate the activities of Indians and Indian tribes on Indian reservations without explicit authority from Congress.”

Congress subsequently enacted legislation requiring tribes “to negotiate compacts with states before conducting gaming.”