Tribes California dreaming in 2006

Dec 27, 2005 2:20 AM

The Barstow, California, casino saga continues to inch its way towards becoming a reality. After 12 long years, the Chemehuevi Indian tribe has gained city council approval for its casino proposal. The council recently determined that the tribe’s business partner, Barstow Enterprises LLC, has the financial resources to build and operate a $186 million casino resort. The Chemehuevi, based in Havasu Lake in eastern San Bernardino County, are eyeing a 40-acre off-reservation site in Barstow.

The saga began in 1994 when the city approached the tribe about establishing a partnership with Barstow Enterprises in hopes of building a casino. The city’s approval brings the Chemehuevis one step closer to their goal, but the tribe still has to negotiate a compact with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and win support from the state legislature and the Secretary of the Interior.

Two other tribes, the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and the Big Lagoon Rancheria of Humboldt County, have also been pursuing gaming projects in Barstow. In September, Schwarzenegger finalized a deal with the two tribes, who plan to share a site on land along the coast. The agreements have yet to be approved by the state legislature and the Secretary of the Interior.

Meanwhile, the newly formed group Barstow Citizens for Real Economic Development, along with Los Coyotes, is filing suit to stop a casino-related ballot initiative. The initiative, introduced by a former city councilman, included giving preference to tribes within San Bernardino County for gaming compacts, setting up a commission to oversee gaming issues, and creating a casino zoning district in Barstow.

The zoning district included the land the Chemehuevi purchased for their casino, but left out the land purchased by BarWest, the developer working with Los Coyotes and Big Lagoon Rancheria. Barstow Citizens for Real Economic Development say that when voters were encouraged to sign the ballot petition, they didn’t have all the information. Now the group is concerned that the initiative, scheduled for a June 2006 vote, will prevent the city from supporting the Los Coyotes/Big Lagoon casino project.

A decision from the San Bernardino County court is expected by the beginning of April.

Catskills? At last!

New Yorkers may, at long last, see a casino in the Catskills. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has notified New York Governor George Pataki that the two-part determination for the St. Regis Mohawk’s off-reservation casino is still valid.

In a letter sent last week, the BIA confirmed an April 2000 ruling allowing a casino development at the Monticello Raceway. Since the original ruling, the Mohawks have changed gaming partners as well as sites. The tribe is now working with Empire Resorts and returned to the raceway site this fall in hopes of moving forward with plans for a $500 million casino and resort.

Pataki signed a law in 2001 authorizing casinos in the Catskills.

Casino may fund projects

Leaders of the Karuk Tribe of California are trying a new tactic in hopes of getting approval for a casino — they will dedicate a portion of casino revenues to fund the tribe’s environmental projects through the Karuk Department of Natural Resources.

Tribal leaders laid out the new proposal to the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors recently. But the Karuk Department of Natural Resources is fighting to get dams removed from the Klamath River as part of its fish and wilderness programs — a move the county does not support. And in the past, the tribe has involved farmers in Upper Klamath Basin and Scott Valley in lawsuits over other natural resources. Are the Karuks grasping at straws?

The National Indian Gaming Commission rejected the tribe’s 2004 casino proposal when the site failed to meet criteria. The land on which the casino would have been built became trust land six months after IGRA was enacted, making it ineligible for gaming. The tribe is re-submitting the trust land for gaming approval.

Meanwhile, the Karuk Tribe is butting heads with the Shasta Nation. Both are claiming ancestral ties to the land in the Siskiyou county area, and particularly the city of Yreka.