Drawing a pair

Two Sacramento area casino proposals follow different paths to become a reality

Las Vegas-style casinos operated by Native American tribes have proliferated in California, although they have mostly been relegated to sparsely populated rural areas. Yet parallel proposals now seek to build casinos into the greater Sacramento metropolitan area.

While much recent attention has been focused on an ambitious and controversial plan to build a major hotel-casino along the West Sacramento riverfront (see “Don’t Bet On It,” SN&R, December 27, 2001), the other major regional casino proposal in Placer County is quietly gathering its final approvals and could open next year.

The United States Department of the Interior recently issued a notice of decision to place land in trust for the United Auburn Indian Community (UAIC) in Placer County, the last significant regulatory hurdle for the project, slated to be built in the Sunset Industrial Area south of Lincoln.

The decision caps an eight-year effort by the tribal alliance to build the casino, an effort that got a boost in 1999 when the Placer County Board of Supervisors reluctantly approved a memorandum of understanding that would subject the project to state environmental laws and give county agencies more than $1 million a year, most of it for police and fire services.

“None of us believe or support casino gambling,” Supervisor Robert Weygandt said at the time. “Yet under federal law, Native American tribes have a right to host gaming, and the United Auburn Indian Community has said they plan to move forward with or without our support.”

The Placer County casino proposal by UAIC and the West Sacramento proposal by the Upper Lake Band of Pomo Indians are a study in contrasts, like the tortoise versus the hare, or perhaps the conservative blackjack player versus the guy who places a fortune on red on the roulette table.

To open a casino in California, tribes must be recognized by Congress and have an agreement with the local jurisdiction for services, a Tribal-State Compact for gaming and an approved Gaming Ordinance. UAIC has it all while the West Sacramento group has none of it.

Instead, the West Sacramento developers have made an aggressive push to build local support by sending pro-casino mailers to all West Sacramento residents and offering the city about $6 million per year. The effort has drawn equally aggressive opposition, including picketing last week by the citizens group Quality Urbanization And Development (QUAD).

Cheryl Schmit, director of the anti-gaming group Stand Up For California, said Pomo casino backers are raising hopes and fears of citizens of the community for what is actually a ploy by local developers to generate interest in their adjacent properties. They know the governor must sign off on the project, and Gray Davis has stated many times his opposition to urban casinos.

Basically, Schmit said the investors wanted to put up a casino and picked the Upper Band of Pomo Indians to do that. Schmit said the tribe and the investors are nowhere near development, and it may never become a reality.

But in Placer County, UAIC has steadily moved the project forward, even agreeing to subject the project to the rigors of the California Environmental Quality Act, a first for an Indian casino in California.

Doug Elmets, the tribe spokesman, said the Placer County Indian Casino—on a 58-acre site at the corner of Athens Way and Industrial Boulevard that will also include housing, cultural and recreational uses—should be up and running sometime in 2003.

Howard Dickstein, attorney for the UAIC, said the tribe is currently in a 30-day public comment period before the land goes into trust, and when that happens the tribe can start building. “It’s been a long haul for the tribe,” he said.

They feel they have exercised their sovereignty and worked cooperatively with local officials to site their casino in a remote location, away from existing churches, homes and schools, leaving their tribe with a good record of acting responsibly.

Among other mitigation measures to offset its impacts on Placer County, the tribe will donate about $25,000 per year for open space acquisition and another $50,000 annually to help prevent and treat gambling addictions.

Tom Tucker, executive director of California Gambling, said the National Institutes of Health in 1990 conducted a study of six states, including California, and found there were 600,000 gamblers in California. Today, after the expansion of Indian casinos, the total has risen to 2 million.

“Wherever there is gambling, there is trouble,” said Tucker.

Tucker said increases in gambling access lead directly to more gambling addictions and their attendant problems. He said many recovering alcoholics turn to gambling and that most people with gambling addictions find it hard to stay away from the casinos, especially when they are only 15 minutes away.

Yet for the tribes, gambling is a source of much-needed revenue, while communities get a new source of entertainment for their residents.

“This is an opportunity for the UAIC to provide a better life for their community,” said tribal spokesman Doug Elmets. Elmets said the gaming law would provide economic security for the tribe so they can have housing, health care and education—a project that could be finished in 2003.

Katie Grant, an administrative assistant in Roseville, said despite the traffic congestion, she is looking forward to a casino in her neighborhood. Grant said she thinks an Indian casino in Placer County will promote jobs and bring a new and exciting nightlife to the Roseville community.

Elmets said the casino in Placer County would expect to employ approximately 1,100 people, including security and surveillance personnel. He said the casino will likely include slot machines, bingo and card games.

Bill Williams, a retired resident living in Woodland, which is 15 miles from Cache Creek Indian Casino, said everybody wins with the progress of Indian casinos. Williams said he feels good going into Cache Creek, because not only does he get to gamble in a clean, safe casino, but he also feels like he is giving back to the Indians.

Williams said he has not seen a rise in crime in his neighborhood as a result of an Indian casino. But, what he has seen is more economic growth in his area due to more jobs from the casino, and just general “lift” in his community’s self-esteem. He hopes for the same turn-out in Placer County and West Sacramento.

On the flip side are residents concerned that casinos will be a magnet for such social ills as addiction, prostitution and other crimes committed by those with gambling problems.

West Sacramento resident Chris Walker said he has watched with hope as his city has gained respectability, but, “[a] West Sacramento casino will only give the town an even seedier feel.”