Sunday, August 14, 2011

Editorial Urges Governor Brown to Say "No" to Barstow Casino Scheme

Casino rush? No


The Press-Enterprise

California voters never approved building tribal casinos at whatever site might get the most business. Tribes should confine gambling operations to reservations, not search for more lucrative locations. The governor and Legislature should reject a San Diego County tribe's proposal to build a casino in the distant High Desert.

The Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians wants to build a casino in Barstow along Interstate 15. That site, however, is 160 miles away from the tribe's reservation, which sits about an hour southeast of Temecula. The proposal faces some substantial hurdles: The tribe has to get the federal government to approve the plan, and negotiate a state gambling compact that allows the Barstow facility. And the Legislature killed a similar bid in 2006, after the tribe had reached a deal with then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The pitch for an off-reservation casino is no better five years later, however, and deserves rejection once again. The tribe's interest in improving its welfare is understandable, but the state needs to find a better approach than letting casinos proliferate far away from any reservation.

The Barstow site has no historical connection to the Los Coyotes tribe. The only real rationale is that the property sits along the heavily traveled Southern California to Las Vegas route. The location is ideal for pulling in a lot of gamblers -- far more than anywhere on the tribe's remote San Diego County lands.

However, Prop. 1A in 2000 authorized Las Vegas-style casinos operated by tribes "on Indian lands." The Los Coyotes Band's proposal would essentially gut that restriction for no other reason than maximizing profits. Such a precedent would set off a land rush, as tribes in distant areas of the state all sought casino sites near big urban areas or along high-traffic routes.

But voters' intent was to give tribes a way to combat poverty on reservations, not invite them to spread casinos across the state. Gambling on tribal lands is a far different proposition from turning California population centers into Las Vegas-farther-west.

Certainly, the state needs to address the fact that some tribes have reservations so remote that casinos are not a realistic option. California tribes should not face poverty simply because their ancestral lands are not conveniently adjacent to large populations of gamblers.

The solution to that issue does not involve letting tribes shop for better casino sites elsewhere. The state and tribes should look at other options, such as cooperative agreements that let tribes share land on existing reservations or share revenues from casino operations.

But the state should insist on limiting Las Vegas-style gambling to tribal lands. Easy access, high traffic counts and good business prospects do not override voter-approved restrictions on where tribes can build casinos.

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