Indian casino laws becoming more clear |

Indian casino laws becoming more clear

A deal between a major Las Vegas gaming company and the United Auburn Indian Community for a new $100 million casino-entertainment facility is causing more than a little controversy.

Some say that the Auburn project, which would be located northeast of Sacramento on Interstate 80, is a sign that the confusing Indian gaming laws in California are finally beginning to come into focus.

Others claim that the casino plan, in which Station Casinos Inc. of Las Vegas will come on board as a managing partner, further complicates the gaming scene.

“Indian gaming in California had been in a legal cloud for about a decade, and now that cloud is fading away,” said Jorgi Boom, public relations consultant for the Cache Creek Indian Bingo and Casino near Davis, which is operated by the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians.

“Before, these joint ventures with Nevada gaming interests just weren’t happening, because the laws were so vague. But with the proposed constitutional amendment to clarify Indian gaming, the tribes are now looking to bring in experts to help them get started. I think it’s a smart business decision.”

Other analysts see it this way: the Nevada casinos tried to beat the tribes at the ballot box, and failed. So if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

California voters passed Proposition 5 by a significant margin this past November. This proposition granted tribes the right to create Nevada-style casinos on their land without legislative or gubernatorial input.

But early this year the California Supreme Court struck down Proposition 5, ruling that it was unconstitutional. An effort to reach a compromise with Gov. Davis soon took the form of a constitutional amendment, which will come up before the voters in March. The amendment would serve to clarify Indian gaming in the state, ratify existing compacts with the governor and allow table-style card games and Vegas-style slot machines in tribal casinos.

The amendment must pass before the Auburn casino could be built.

“Proposition 5 was much more expansive than this amendment, and Proposition 5 passed by a wide margin,” said Doug Elmets, tribal spokesman for the United Auburn Indian Community. “The initiative is going to pass; that’s the least of our worries.”

What worries Elmets the most is the impression that the tribe is shoving their new casino down the throats of neighboring communities. The city councils of Lincoln, Rocklin and Roseville, which border the tribal land, are against the casino. Lincoln, in fact, is so far refusing to connect the new project with its sewer treatment system.

But Northern Nevada casino interests feel the threat even more. The Auburn casino would be located on Reno’s major artery, Interstate 80. Nearly 3 million visitors from Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area use that highway each year to come to Reno – many to gamble.

And add to that the fact that Northern Nevada’s other feeder highway, U.S. Highway 50, will soon entertain a tribal casino of its own. The El Dorado Miwok Band is planning a large casino on its land near Shingle Springs, which is about 60 miles west of Stateline.

“If people are under the impression that the California regulatory structure is set up to accept widespread gaming, then they are mistaken,” said Steve Teshara, executive director of the Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance.

“The tribes have been claiming that these casinos will allow for self-help,” Teshara said. “But with all of these (Las Vegas) management companies coming in, you have to wonder if that’s the case.”

Teshara also believes that the tribes are running roughshod over the communities which would be impacted by their casinos.

“The tribes are putting in these casinos, and if the communities object, they are told ‘Too bad for you,'” he said. “That’s not right.”

But the Placer County Board of Supervisors voted recently to support the Auburn casino, and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the county to mitigate any casino impacts.

“This casino would be located in an unincorporated, industrially zoned area of Placer County,” Elmets said. “It’s not in Lincoln, Rocklin or Roseville.

“We have done our utmost to work with the surrounding communities and address their concerns, even though we are not required to. One of the provisions of the MOU is that the tribe will pay $455,000 a year to the county sheriff to hire five new deputies and purchase a new patrol car. We are also paying to straighten roads, abiding by local building ordinances and establishing an open space program.”

The United Auburn Indian Restitution Act, signed by President Clinton in 1994, allows the Auburn tribe to acquire any land in Placer County of its choosing for its reservation.

“No other tribe in the nation has a similar act,” Elmets said. “It was passed because until 1994, we were a landless tribe. Now we want to better ourselves. And unlike the (El Dorado Band) Miwok tribe in Shingle Springs, we are willing to work with the community to make sure everyone is happy.”


The United Auburn Indian Community is not the only tribe to have formed an alliance with Nevada gaming consultants (Station Casinos Inc. of Las Vegas). Lakes Gaming Inc. of Minneapolis has an agreement to build and manage a proposed casino near Shingle Springs for the El Dorado Band of Miwok Indians. Also, Anchor Gaming of Las Vegas announced a deal last month to manage a casino for the Pala Band of Mission Indians in San Diego.

And Harrah’s manages three tribal casinos in Phoenix; Topeka, Kan., and Cherokee, N.C.

“Where it’s legal and well-regulated, we are in support of tribal casinos,” said Harrah’s Tahoe director of information John Packer. “We have been managing a tribal casino in Phoenix for five years, and are ready to sign another five-year deal. We aren’t at odds with the tribes at all.”

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