Tribe to limit size, scope of casino in San Pablo - Saturday 12th of March 2005
The Lytton Band of Pomo Indians has decided to shelve plans to build a Las Vegas-style casino with 2,500-slot machines in San Pablo.
In a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger dated Thursday, tribal chairwoman Margie Mejia wrote that opposition in the state Legislature has doomed the compact signed between the tribe and the governor last year. That pact would have allowed construction of the casino and given a share of the profits to local and state governments.
"Under these circumstances, we have now concluded that our compact has little likelihood of being ratified by this Legislature," Mejia wrote. She said the tribe would seek to revive the compact with a future Legislature if there is less opposition.
Instead, the Lyttons will renovate an existing cardroom on the site without adding slot machines, leaving the state with no regulatory power over the facility and avoiding a revenue-sharing agreement. Also, the Lyttons are under no obligation to mitigate the casino's impact on the local traffic and other community concerns.
The Casino San Pablo currently is a 70,000-square-foot cardroom. In the letter, Mejia said the tribe would add a "wider variety of Class II games," including electronic bingo games which resemble slot machines but are based on bingo.
Under the now-stalled compact agreement, the tribe had offered $25 million to pay for interchange improvements along Interstate 80 where the casino is located. Also, the tribe would have given 25 percent of its profits -- estimated at $155 million a year -- to the local and state governments.
Neither of those things will happen now, Mejia wrote.
Gov. Schwarzenegger's office expressed hope that the Legislature would reconsider and approve the compact.
"Clearly, for all affected parties, the governor's compact is superior to the course of action announced today by the tribe," said Vince Sollitto, Schwarzenegger's spokesman.
The plan for the slot machine casino had foundered in recent weeks after U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, called on the state legislature to kill the compact. That position surprised many people because Miller had sponsored legislation in Congress five years ago that gave the Lyttons federal trust land and obligated the state to negotiate with the tribe on a casino gaming deal.
Miller felt the casino plan -- a building covering four acres with a five-story parking garage -- was too big for the community.
Democratic lawmakers in the state Assembly have said there was little chance of the proposal passing.
"I think this signals that the tribe has come to the same conclusion that we've been telling everybody, and that is, the Legislature is not interested in approving an urban gambling compact," said Hans Heeman, chief of staff to Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, one of the most vocal opponents of the compact.
The compact between the tribe and the state was negotiated quietly last summer amid an effort by Schwarzenegger to see the state profit from future expansion of Indian casinos. Five other tribes cut deals with the governor that allowed them to expand their slot machine casinos at will in exchange for giving a percentage of their winnings to the state.
They also obligated themselves to address casino impacts in their communities in a way that their previous deals did not.
After some bumps, the deals were ratified by the Legislature. But the Lytton deal's dimensions -- which at first called for a 5,000 slot machine, six-to-eight-story casino -- had no fans among lawmakers. So unpopular was the deal that Schwarzenegger did not ask that it be taken up for a required vote in the Legislature -- and has yet to do so.
San Pablo city officials said they were frustrated by watching the compact fall apart in Sacramento.
"I'm disappointed that no one could even author a bill to go before the legislature," said Councilman Paul V. Morris. The city will continue to receive money from the tribe for providing police services, but Morris said he was saddened by the loss of potential jobs in both the construction and running of the casino.
"It was disconcerting to witness Congressman Miller, after his position for so long of time, that he seems to be doing an about-face in terms of supporting the compact," said Councilmember Leonard McNeil.
While the tribe plans to extend its gaming operations with electronic bingo machines, those machines make far less revenue than slot machines. In the letter to the governor, Mejia wrote that the tribe would stay with California-legal Class II machines and games and not "push the envelope" by installing video lottery terminals as some other tribes have.
Another challenge for the tribe is legislation introduced in Congress by Sen. Dianne Feinstein that would force the Lyttons into traditional negotiations between the government and tribes for expansion of gaming operations. Feinstein's bill would undo a major part of the deal Miller secured five years ago.
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