Our bay of St. Francis is primed to become the Monte Carlo of the West by the looks of all the recent casino proposals, a result of both intentional and unintended actions of legislators, disenfranchised tribes, and savvy money men who could smell the profits from three time zones away.
In effect, the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior is running a tribal gaming franchise business that allows casino complexes to be plopped anywhere in the U.S. in what amounts to a tax-free zone. Not all tribal casinos are going to be huge or even profitable, however. The gold standard is a casino site in an urban area where the potential gamblers have easy access. But urban casinos have been few and far between until recently because most tribal lands are in rural areas.
That is changing in California. It began with a little noticed change to a 2000 federal spending bill in which Congressman George Miller retroactively reinstated tribal land status for a small disenfranchised Pomo group known as the Lytton Band. The land happened to be a few acres in the middle of San Pablo, a city on the perimeter of San Francisco Bay.
Enter the money men, the consultants, and a Bay Area cottage casino industry….It only makes sense when you know what the numbers are. According to the National Indian Gaming Commission (nigc.gov), in 2003 Indian gaming revenues were $16.7 billion from 330 gaming operations throughout the U.S. However, just 43 of these casino operations located in California account for $4.7 billion in revenues. Compare that to total Nevada state non-Indian gaming revenue of about $900 million (including Las Vegas casinos). In addition, there are new customer betting offers being given to new players, read more about this at this site.
With that kind of money in play it’s no wonder that high-powered Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff got a little greedy. Now being investigated by the Senate Indian Affairs Committtee, headed by Sen. John McCain, as well as a federal grand jury, Abramhoff and his partner Michael Scanlon–a former spokesman for Congressman Tom DeLay–have been accused of funneling much of the $66 million they charged Indian tribes for consulting services into slush funds benefiting conservative and Republican causes. (see Washington Post article from Nov. 8, 2004 by Thomas B. Edsall)
In California, tribal contributions to California political campaigns have become the subject of litigation. The question is whether tribal sovereignty trumps campaign contribution disclosure laws. The California case began when the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) sued the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, saying it was subject to the state’s Political Reform Act. The agency accused the tribe of failing to file semi-annual disclosure statements for more than $8.1 million in campaign contributions.
The Agua Caliente Band owns two casinos near Palm Springs. Though its located close enough to Los Angeles to be a popular weekend resort destination, it couldn’t be considered urban. The first truly urban casino on tribal land is yet to come. But when it does it’s likely to be a San Francisco Bay landmark.
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