Beyond Casinos: Growth Opportunities for Business on Tribal Lands

A logo is displayed on a Tesla Inc. electric vehicle on July 20, 2020. Tesla recently opened a showroom and repair center on Indian tribal land in New Mexico. Charles W. Galbraith , co-chair of Jenner & Block’s Native American law practice, and associate Krystalyn Kinsel explain the benefits and legal and cultural nuances of partnering with tribes for new business ventures. There is no shortage of scholarship or white papers on the intricacies of doing business in Indian County, but until recently, there have been few widely known examples that clearly demonstrate the benefits of operating on tribal land.

This fall, Tesla opened its newest showroom and repair center on the trust land of the Nambé Pueblo, a federally recognized tribe located north of Santa Fe, N.M. The reason for the unlikely Tesla showroom location, in the shadow of a tribal casino near a smoke shop and travel center, was an outdated state law that prohibited the electric auto maker’s business model of direct to consumer sales by requiring all car sales to go through a dealership.

Tribes are sovereign governments that predate the U.S. that retained their sovereignty when the U.S. and 50 states grew around them, and state law largely does not apply on tribal lands. This jurisdictional distinction has manifested in a lot of the businesses commonly associated with tribes, such as casinos, cigarettes, fireworks, and now revolutionary high-end electric cars. New Mexico’s state law requiring that auto sales all be through dealerships simply does not apply […]

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