Barstow casino plans diverge from gaming act - Tuesday 12th of July 2005

BARSTOW, smack in the middle of the desert route to Nevadas gaming resorts, seems suddenly to see itself as Californias new gambling mecca in the making.

The City Council, which first approved a deal for an Indian casino two years ago, now is busily lining up not one, not two, but three Indian casinos on the edge of town with three different tribes.

Whoa there hold on a minute.

Although casinos could spur the citys economy and provide thousands of jobs, full-scale Nevada-style gambling is not what California voters had in mind when they OKd reservation gaming.

And off-reservation gaming, which is what lies in store for Barstow, is not something thats in the cards as far as state or federal law is concerned.

Its unlikely either Congress or California voters intended to give tribal gaming free rein. Proposition 1A even posits that all Indian gaming be on tribal lands.

The Chemehuevis of Lake Havasu, at least, may have a realistic ancestral claim to the land, though even then, its a stretch the Colorado River, on which their reservation sits, is 180 miles away.

The Los Coyotes and Big Lagoon tribes homelands are even farther away. The Los Coyotes Band of Mission Indians reservation is in San Diego County. The Big Lagoon Rancherias tribe emanates from Humboldt County.

Yet all of a sudden, all three tribes are in the running for casinos in Barstow.

The Los Coyotes and Big Lagoon tribes claim to be near a deal with the state on a gambling pact that would allow them to build and jointly run two adjoining casinos. The hotel-casino complex would be near Barstows two factory-outlet malls. And it would be developed by BarWest LLC which is based in Detroit.

The Chemehuevis, meanwhile, are planning a resort a quarter-mile away and expect to conclude contract negotiations with the City Council by Aug. 1.

What gives?

While we can understand the three tribes wanting to cash in on the casino traffic going through town on Interstates 15 and 40, and the city itself desires to gain a share of that revenue, the prospective onslaught of glitter and slots on Barstows border is incongruous with what voters, and Congress, envisioned for tribal gaming in California.

Barstow city officials may be ready for such an outcome. But are the rest of us? And what about Barstow voters, who wont even get a chance to weigh in on a casino until the November election, provided the initiative qualifies?

Ultimately, will it fly with the secretary of the Interior, who must sign off on such a deal?

No California tribe has gotten lucky thus far in acquiring off- reservation land for a casino through the normal legal process spelled out in the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, which these three tribes must follow.

So, all of the hubbub geared toward building a bevy of Indian casinos in Barstow may be like chasing that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not that it should pan out, unless or until the public agrees to a wholesale divergence from the original game plan on tribal gaming

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