By ABBY SEWELL, staff writer
BARSTOW • At least one Indian tribe is still actively pursuing a casino in Barstow, but they may have a long road ahead of them.
The Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno tribe is still hopeful that the U.S. Department of the Interior will agree to put land in Barstow into federal trust to be used for a casino, said project spokesman Tom Shields, who works for developer BarWest, LLC. Placing the land in trust is a necessary step before the tribe, whose reservation is in San Diego County, can go forward with an off-reservation casino in Barstow.
The tribe submitted a revised application to put about 23 acres of land in Barstow into federal trust in May 2008, after being turned down in January 2008 due to new federal rules that state an off-reservation casino should be within commuting distance of the reservation. The next step in the process would be for the BIA to come out with a draft environmental impact statement, Shields said.
The interior department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs is currently reviewing the revised application, said spokeswoman Nedra Darling, but she could not give a timeline on when the review might be completed.
Shields said that because the Los Coyotes reservation is so remote and austere, and only about 40 out of the more than 300 tribe members live on-reservation, the commutability standard should not apply. The lack of electricity and roads in most of the reservation and the mountainous terrain make it unsuitable for development, he said.
“In (the BIA’s) minds, tribal members would have to live close enough to the casino for them to commute on a daily basis,” he said. “... We basically pointed out that there’s very few members of the tribe that live on the reservation. Probably more of them live closer to Barstow.”
BarWest currently owns the land on Lenwood Road east of Interstate 15 where the proposed casino would be built, but if the government approves the Los Coyotes’ application, the acreage would be handed to the federal government to be held in trust for the tribe for use as a gaming site.
The Los Coyotes were previously working in partnership with the Big Lagoon Rancheria tribe from Humboldt County, but decided to go it alone after last January’s rejection, while the Big Lagoon tribe elected to pursue a casino closer to home.
Shields said the Los Coyotes tribe remains “100 percent committed” to opening a casino in Barstow.
The Chemehuevi tribe, whose reservation is in Havasu Lake, had submitted an application for a separate casino project in Barstow, which was also rejected in January. The Chemehuevi have not resubmitted their application, and tribal Chairman Charles Wood said Friday that the tribe is waiting to see whether the commutability rules will change under the Obama administration before going forward with the project.
The city also remains hopeful that one of the casino projects will come through, but it is in the hands of the tribes to obtain state and federal approval, city spokesman John Rader said, although he noted that former Mayor Lawrence Dale sent a number of letters to the Department of the Interior in support of the Los Coyotes project in 2008.
Rader said the city sees a casino resort project as a means of jumpstarting the local economy, estimating that the development could create 3,700 jobs, revitalize the outlet malls and other local businesses, and bring about $6.5 million to the city in the first year through a revenue-sharing agreement. The city still has agreements with both the Los Coyotes and the Chemehuevi, both of which would allot 4.3 percent of the casinos’ electronic gaming revenues to the city.
On the state level, Indian casinos have not proved to be as lucrative as some had hoped. Tribal revenue-sharing payments to the state will total $362 million this year, but that is $123 million less than the Governor’s Office had forecasted, according to a recent report in the Sacramento Bee.
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