Calif. bill would prohibit off-reservation casino compact
The California Senate in May passed legislation that would prohibit the governor from negotiating gaming compacts with Native American tribes that did not have federally recognized land in place on which to put a casino facility.
The move comes after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s deal with the Mono Indians of North Fork Rancheria for a $250 million casino near Highway 99 just north of Madera drew ire of several lawmakers. The land in question is some 35 miles from the tribe’s traditional homeland, and placing a casino there would essentially create California’s first off-reservation gaming facility.
Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., has been one of the most vocal critics of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s deal with the Mono Indians, calling the signing of state compacts before land is federally approved for tribes’ use a move that “manipulates the process.”
Feinstein was one of several state lawmakers that have supported Senate Bill 1695, authored by state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter. The bill passed by a 31-4 vote. “If a majority of the people in California want Indian gambling, at least it should be on Indian land,” Florez told the Associated Press.
Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, agreed, adding that the Mono Indians’ North Fork compact would encourage other tribes to engage in “reservation shopping” to attempt to get more profitable casinos.
“A lot of us are concerned about reservation shopping,” he said. “This (deal) would not only make it possible, it would sanction it.”
But Schwarzenegger, in signing the deal, noted its positive environmental impacts. The compact calls for the North Fork Rancheria to share a small fraction of casino revenues with the 600-member Wiyot tribe on California's North Coast. The Wiyot tribe has agreed to forgo its right to game on tribal lands along the environmentally sensitive Humboldt Bay near Eureka in exchange for $5 million in annual payments that would come from the Mono Indians’ gaming revenue.
Florez’s bill does not mean an instant rejection for the Mono Indians’ casino hopes, but it could be an indication of how lawmakers, who would need to approve the compact, might vote. However, some supporters of the Florez bill said they would consider the North Fork Rancheria plans if it also has federal support.
“If the federal government would approve the [casino], then there's a basis for a compact," state Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, told the Sacramento Bee.
SB 1695, too, might face an uphill challenge. It would still have to pass the California Assembly, as well as survive a potential veto from Schwarzenegger.