Gov. Gray Davis and a federal courtroom are the next hurdles for an Indian tribe that wants to build California’s first urban casino.
Davis and a group of San Francisco-area card clubs had been waiting for Congress to reconsider last year’s authorization for the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians to open a casino in a San Pablo card room.
However, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., dropped his opposition this week in return for language in an Interior Department spending bill a spokesman said would prevent the spread of urban gambling across California. That could potentially threaten Nevada’s casinos.
Opponents are disappointed by Reid’s decision, but “we’re prepared to get the issue resolved by a court, and we always have been,” said Robert D. “Bo” Links, attorney for Artichoke Joe’s card club.
A Nov. 16 hearing is set in Sacramento federal court on opponents’ efforts not only to block the tribe’s plans, but to toss out Indian gaming in California.
The suits contend California’s Proposition 1A violates federal equal protection guarantees by giving Indians exclusive rights to operate casinos. They contend the amendment that made the casino possible when it was inserted into federal law last year by U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, also singles out one tribe of fewer than 220 members for special treatment.
Tribal attorney Anthony Cohen expects the tribe to prevail in court, which would permit the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to give the tribe formal title to the land. The bureau has delayed the transfer pending the legal review.
The transfer would allow the tribe to begin operating bingo-type games, such as tip jar, punch board, pull tab, lotto and similar Class 2 games, as well as limited card games already allowed at the card room. Cohen said the tribe already is planning to seek the necessary tribal and federal permits so it can begin gaming as soon as it acquires title.
That alone would improve the impoverished tribe’s finances, Cohen said. But the tribe would then apply to Davis for a compact allowing it to operate Class 3 table games, creating the state’s first urban casino.
Davis has asked the attorney general’s office to come up with options for blocking the casino.
“He doesn’t want to see a big expansion of Indian gambling in California, particularly in urban areas,” said Davis spokeswoman Hilary McLean.
“The ball’s kind of in the governor’s court,” said Michael Franchetti, who represents the Lucky Chances card room opposing the tribe’s plans.
Franchetti and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., contended that the congressional language approved by Reid would do nothing to prevent the spread of Indian gaming to urban areas.
“This is establishing a precedent of off-reservation Sg Online Casino. And once it starts, it can sweep the state,” said Feinstein. “There are 109 separate and independent tribal governments in California, of which 46 already have operational casinos. All the rest could do the same thing as the Lytton Tribe.”
Reid spokesman Nathan Naylor said the language “will make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum, both R-Pa., were among senators pushing for resolution of the matter. Their state is home to Philadelphia sports entrepreneur Sam Katz, who represents more than 20 San Pablo Casino investors.
“They had a lot of money at risk, and I gather they put a full-court press on” to force a compromise, said Franchetti. “It looks like Philadelphia interests out-muscled Nevada interests.”