Group challenges California gaming
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FEBRUARY 8, 2001

In a broad challenge to Indian gaming in California, a coalition of four Bay Area card clubs and two charities on Wednesday filed a lawsuit in federal court aimed at stopping the Santa Rosa Band of Pomo Indians from turning their card room into a casino.

The tribe, like a number of others, was the beneficiary of legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in December. Known as the Omnibus Indian Advancement Act, the law took a 10-acre site about 10 miles north Oakland into trust for the tribe. The site houses the tribe's card room, otherwise known as Casino San Pablo.

But the group charges that the two-sentence provision, located on page 52 of the 76-page act, was inserted at the last-minute without any public hearing or debate. They say it violates the spirit of Proposition 1A, a constitutional amendment voters overwhelmingly approved last year authorizing expanded gaming on Indian land.

"In approving Proposition 1A, California voters were led to believe that the measure would allow only limited gaming on existing -- primarily rural -- Indian lands," said attorney Bo Links. "The Casino San Pablo deal and the stealth legislation that made it possible clearly fly in the face of what voters thought they were approving."

Even so, the four card clubs who filed the lawsuit admittedly would face intense competition from a Vegas-style casino. The tribe plans on negotiating a gaming compact with Governor Gray Davis in order to offer slot machines at its card room.

And despite the addition of two charity groups to the lawsuit who claim the amendment, inserted by Representative George Miller (D-Calif), was a "backroom political deal," the provision wasn't as secret as the card clubs might present it. Immediately after Clinton signed it into law on December 27, they issued a statement condemning the action and called on Davis to reject a compact with the tribe.

Yet the press statement released by the group yesterday didn't list by name the card clubs, which include Artichoke Joe's and California Grand Casino. The statement, however, did include the names of the charities who said the tribe's casino would limit their ability to compete.

The card clubs also appear to present contradictory views on the nature of the legislation. In December, they claimed it would open the "floodgates" to tribal casinos in cities while yesterday they said it gives just "one tribe the exclusive opportunity" to offer gaming in an urban area.

In a statement of their own, California Nations Indian Gaming Association called the card clubs "disgruntled" and said the group's larger challenges to Proposition 1A and tribal-state gaming compacts would not survive.

"Today's latest action is frivolous and not unexpected -- it is a desperate measure by a few isolated card clubs." said CNIGA. "Proposition 1A is legally sound and we are confident the courts will affirm the will of the people to support California tribal government gaming on Indian lands."

The tribe wasn't available for comment yesterday.

Get the Law (See Title VIII. Section 819 "Land to be taken into trust" for the Santa Rosa provision):
The Omnibus Indian Advancement Act (H.R.5528)

Relevant Links:
California Nations Indian Gaming Association -

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Clinton signs a final Indian bill (Tribal Law 12/29)