Indian gaming:Not in my backyard? |

Indian gaming:Not in my backyard?

Ted Long

What is the real impact of Indian gaming? How do you measure it, looking from all sides, our local economy, the environment and from the Indian’s point of view?

Indian gaming has grown out of the fact that Indians have been historically taken advantage of, and there has been a serious effort in recent years to make amends. The designation of an “Indian reservation” by the federal government, as a sovereign nation, exempts them from all state and local regulation, creating unique opportunities.

The Miwok Indians of El Dorado County form the traditional model. Their reservation was originally in the Sacramento area and the state government moved them from their Sacramento home in the early 1900s so the land could be used for the state capitol. The tribe was relocated in El Dorado County to their current location in Shingle Springs, a rural residential area. Over the years the tribe has represented to the county that they anticipated 40 home sites more or less, all compatible with rural residential neighborhood.

The argument that the Indians have been unfairly pushed around and are deserving of public support is well-founded. The question is at what cost – to others and the environment – do we remedy the historical mistakes?

Placing a casino resort on Highway 50 just outside Sacramento will simply shift the problem from one group to another, create environmental havoc and destroy any potential growth opportunities in the the entire county.

In 2003, a county-prepared position paper stated: “This (the casino) is a planning nightmare no rational planner and no sensible public official would ever approve, a commercial project of this magnitude in an area zoned for rural residences.” Yet three years later, our Supervisor Norma Santiago voted to build it?

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There is no doubt that the new casino will damage the economy of South Lake Tahoe. There are many examples of the impact of Indian gaming to bear this out. Thunder Canyon Resort on Highway 80, for example, has taken more than $450 million dollars out of the Reno economy.

A recent report from the Voices for Rural Living indicates that the direct impact of this project on revenues in the South Shore would be approximately $50 million per year. Based on the proponent’s direct impact numbers, our city’s economic development manager estimates an additional indirect impact or loss of $75 million per year in the city – a loss equivalent to 24 percent of the city taxable sales or 5.3 years of steady growth of the local economy at 4.5 percent per year.

Based on best- and worst-case assumptions, the proposed project will reduce jobs at the South Shore from 180 to 900 jobs, or from 1 percent to 6 percent of the existing workforce.

This does not mean that the casinos will make less money; no, their budget is balanced by the number of employees. When the bottom line is threatened, like this, the people who pay the price are the workforce; lay offs will occur. The exchange will be new jobs for those at the new casino and layoffs of the existing South Shore employees. It is not an equal exchange, because there is an additional impact to South Shore, the loss of customers to other businesses that draw from the visitors attracted by gaming: restaurants, local motels and hotels, as well as gasoline and all the other services visitors require and use. In the winter, for example, “no chains required” will make a strong advertising campaign for the Shingle Springs resort. South Lake Tahoe stands to lose another 200 to 900 people, to be subtracted from our ever-dwindling middle class. My point is, any effort to bolster the Indian economy will only be at the expense of the South Lake Tahoe economy, a sad trade-off on top of an environmental disaster.

Then let us look at the environmental and social impact. Shingle Springs is a quiet residential-agricultural neighborhood, surrounded by flowing fields and quiet hills. To be planted in the middle will be a new freeway overpass, a huge hotel, a golf course, numerous restaurants and a casino with 2,000 slot machines. I would be the first to say that the cry, “not in my back yard” is not always fair; however, in this case it’s not just my backyard that the neighbors are crying, it’s their entire lifestyle that is being destroyed.

Then there’s the matter of approving a casino hotel, a true world-class resort, in an area with no sewers – that’s 400-plus rooms on a septic system? Little water and only country roads is a serious mistake by anyone’s standards. Meanwhile we at Lake Tahoe, who cannot even add a patio to our house without major governmental approval, are told to shut up and pretend we do not notice the environmental and economic nightmare that is taking place. All this disaster and we are only shifting the economic burden from one group to another, and eliminating hundreds of jobs from the South Shore economy. There has to be a better way.

As early as Jan. 7, 2003, the City Council heard a report by Chief Assistant County Counsel Ed Knapp who asked for the council’s support for the county’s litigation to block the casino. The city at that time voted to pursue the litigation. The current council has agreed to continue the fight. Let’s find a better way to make this tribe successful.

– Ted Long is a member of the South Lake Tahoe City Council.