Critics complain Indian tribe plans casino far from tribal lands

Nov 27, 2009 4:40 PM
Staff & Wire Reports | An Indian tribe wants to build a grand, $1.5 billion, Las Vegas-style casino resort on a swath of land overlooking San Francisco Bay — a spot more than 100 miles from its tribal lands.

Across the country, in fact, a number of Indian tribes are seeking to construct casinos well away from their reservations or other tribal lands. And the trend may be about to accelerate: The Obama administration is expected to decide soon whether to loosen the rules on some of these projects.

Gambling opponents deplore the trend and complain that Indian tribes are trying to game the system to expand their operations and get closer to lucrative big-city markets. They fear that more gambling will bring more crime and other social ills.

"These are all casinos coming to a highway ramp near you," said Cheryl Schmit, director of a nonprofit group that opposes Indian gambling.

Tribes such as the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians, which is leading the Northern California proposal, say casinos hold the promise of jobs and a better future for their members.

"We have a responsibility to try to make lives better," said Donald Duncan, a top tribal official.

Law has exceptions

The vast majority of the hundreds of Indian casinos in the U.S. are on tribal land — often well-removed from big cities — as envisioned under the 1988 federal law that created regulations for the $26 billion Indian gambling industry. But the law has exceptions, including ones for tribes such as Guidiville that have regained federal recognition in recent decades and are looking to establish a reservation.

Off-reservation casinos already exist in Milwaukee and Spokane, Wash., having been approved in the 1990s.

An Associated Press examination of federal records has found about a dozen tribes have filed applications to set up casinos on distant pieces of land, close to population centers. In six cases, including the Guidiville proposal, the resorts are slated for land more than 100 miles away.

In Michigan, the Hannahville Indian Community wants to build a gambling hall in a city 20 miles outside Detroit and 457 driving miles from the group's reservation in the Upper Peninsula. Other cities proposed for such casinos include Phoenix, El Paso, Oklahoma City and Portland, Ore.

But for many Indian tribes, the problem is this: Last year, the Bush administration decided that Indian casinos must be within commuting distance of reservations. It rejected applications from more than 20 tribes, including one for a casino 1,400 miles from the reservation.

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs is now reassessing the commuting-distance rule. And many tribes are optimistic.

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