Skift Take

What is and isn't an Indian casino in the U.S. is so much about local politics and creative boundaries that a battle like this amounts to not much more than closing the gate after the horses have escaped.

It’s been a dozen years since California voters approved casinos on tribal land. The most dire warnings about unchecked expansion of Las Vegas-style gambling haven’t played out, but that doesn’t mean gambling interests aren’t working every angle.

Card rooms and race tracks haven’t given up on winning state approval for slot machines.

Internet operators are lobbying in Sacramento for online poker.

Lately, there’s renewed talk of legalizing sports betting in the Golden State.

Meanwhile, the number of Indian casinos has increased by 50 percent, from 41 when Proposition 1A took effect in 2000 to 60 now. So far, casinos have generally been restricted to rancherias and reservations that already existed when the measure passed despite efforts to reach closer to urban centers.

One notable exception involves the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, who were authorized by Congress to acquire land and plan a casino on the outskirts of Rohnert Park, less than an hour’s drive from much of the greater Bay Area.

Two off-reservation casino applications are now awaiting action by Gov. Jerry Brown, who should reject efforts by tribes and their allies in the gambling industry to establish casinos along busy highways far from their traditional lands.

Brown has until the end of August to rule on proposals by Butte County’s Enterprise Rancheria and Fresno County’s North Fork Rancheria. The Enterprise tribe, working with an auto-racing team owner from Illinois, wants to build a casino and hotel along Highway 65 near Marysville, about 50 miles from its tribal lands east of Oroville. The North Fork tribe, working with Station Casinos, a partner in the Graton project, wants to put a casino and hotel along Highway 99 near Madera, about 40 miles from its reservation.

These efforts were enabled by the Obama administration’s decision to ease a rule requiring casinos to be within easy driving distance of a tribe’s reservation. In making his decision, Brown should stick with precedent.

Six years ago, lawmakers deep-sixed a proposal backed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to allow two other tribes to open off-reservation casinos along the freeway between Las Vegas and greater Los Angeles. One of those tribes was from Humboldt County, some 700 miles away.

There’s no shortage of gambling in California — a state-operated lottery, public and private race tracks, card rooms and, of course, five dozen tribal casinos.

Promises of a growing stream of tax revenue from expanded gambling are likely to be illusory. Remember the promise from the lottery’s sponsor (a Rhode Island company that prints scratch tickets) to boost funding for public education?

Not every reservation is suited to a casino, but Proposition 1A envisioned a revenue-sharing fund to benefit tribes that don’t enter the gambling business. That’s a better policy than seeking gamblers on busy freeways far from tribal land.


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Tags: california, gaming

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