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National
Off-reservation casino dropped as debate continues


A small California tribe dropped its controversial plan for a large casino in the Bay Area last week amid growing concern over off-reservation gaming.

Citing opposition from state lawmakers, the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians said it would not seek approval for a Class III compact it had signed with by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). The agreement was the subject of criticism due the proposed size of the facility on off-reservation land in San Pablo.

"Under these circumstances, we have now concluded that our compact has little likelihood of being ratified by this Legislature,"chairwoman Margie Mejia wrote a letter last Thursday.

The letter did not rule out the possibility of a Class III casino in the future. For now, Mejia said the tribe would add Class II machines free of state regulation to the existing card club located on the 9.5-acre property, which was taken into trust under a mandatory Congressional acquisition.

The decision ends, at least temporarily, the long-running controversy over the casino plan. State lawmakers raised serious doubts about the project even after the tribe said it would operate 2,500 machines instead of the original 5,000 envisioned by the compact.

But it likely to do little to quell the debate over off-reservation gaming. Efforts are mounting at the state and federal level to prevent tribes like the Lytton Band from opening casinos on land far away from traditional reservations. Some tribes are seeking casinos in other states.

Just last Thursday, the House Resources Committee held a hearing on a bill that would limit off-reservation casinos. Rep. Richard Pombo (R-California), the chairman of the committee, said Congress needs to get a handle on the practice.

Tribes throughout the country agree. The California Nations Indian Gaming Association, the Great Plains Indian Gaming Association and the United South and Eastern Tribes recently agreed to oppose so-called "reservation shopping," the label applied, often derisively, to efforts to open casino in lucrative markets.

"On reservation activity is what this is about," said Kurt Luger, the chairman of GPIGA, at the hearing. "It must be a priority."

The two largest Indian organizations haven't taken a stance. But recognizing the importance of the issue, the National Congress of American Indians and the National Indian Gaming Association are holding three forums -- including one this week in Washington, D.C. -- for tribal leader to discuss their views.

"Our position is that when tribes have a difference or disagreement or then it's up to them to work through those and the national organization doesn't get involved in policy to that extent," Ernie Stevens Jr., the chairman of NIGA, said earlier this month at the NCAI winter session.

Not everyone believes all the attention -- which has been mostly negative and has gone against tribes -- is warranted. At the hearing last week, Democrats said they feared that changing federal gaming law might do harm than good.

"I think the off-reservation issue is being overblown in the media and Congress is reacting to that," said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey).

But with additional hearings planned on off-reservation gaming and regulation of the $18.5 billion tribal casino industry, the issue won't go away soon. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and an original sponsor of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, said he is concerned about the controversy.

Speaking at the NCAI meeting, McCain said, "I think it's foolhardy to ignore the backlash that could and, in fact, is resulting from the expansion of gaming in areas never contemplated" under IGRA. He has not announced a date for any hearings.

In addition to this week's tribal forum, NCAI and NIGA are sponsoring a forum at the NIGA trade show in San Diego, California, next month. The final meeting will be held at the GPIGA conference in May. The tribes then plan to present their views to Pombo and McCain.

Relevant Documents:
Tribal-State Compact with Lytton Band

Relevant Links;
Lytton Band of Pomo Indians - http://www.sonic.net/lytton
Casino San Pablo - http://www.casino-sanpablo.com
Stop Urban Casinos - http://www.stopurbancasinos.org