An urban casino? Noooooooooo!

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It has always been a source of bewilderment to me that casinos in many
states are required to be on water. These so-called "riverboat" casinos
don't have to cruise. They don't need engines or a captain and crew. They
can, in fact, be in little canals running from the tributaries. "Boats in a
moat," so to speak.

Real estate investor Don Tyner, who 15 years ago was scouting potential
gambling sites in South Mississippi, said, "There's something about water
that kind of sanitizes gambling,"

Of course! Silly me.

Next question. Why is it necessary that casinos not be in cities; I mean
most cities? Atlantic City, N.J., has casinos. Detroit has casinos. Las
Vegas, of course, has lots of casinos.

But even whisper the notion of casinos in New York or Chicago or Los
Angeles or San Francisco and, well, noooooooooo!

The prohibition covers only casinos, mind you. You can buy lottery tickets
in cities in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Teenagers buy lottery
tickets in those cities. And you can bet on the horses. Either at the track
or in betting parlors. And I haven't done a whole lot of research, but I
suspect there just might be one or two bookies in the, ah, more urban parts
of this country.

But not casinos. The casinos have to be out in the sticks somewhere,
preferably floating.

California is, of course, the height of hypocrisy. California has this
incredible love-hate relationship with gambling. And nothing is bringing
out the duplicity of residents of Lotus Land more than tribal government
casinos.

In 1995, before the advent of high-stakes tribal government casinos,
California already ranked sixth in the nation in the amount wagered on
legal gambling, according to Christiansen Capital Advisers LLC and
International Gaming & Wagering Business magazine. Residents that year
spent more than $14 billion on lottery tickets and at card clubs,
racetracks and bingo halls.

Let me repeat that: California had the sixth largest gambling industry in
the country before tribal casinos.

I lived in California about as long as I lived in Sin City, and what I
liked about L.A. was the fact it was the one place in the nation there was
year-round thoroughbred racing: Santa Anita in Arcadia; Hollywood Park in
Inglewood; Del Mar in San Diego and the County Fairgrounds. That's not to
mention the quarter horses at Los Alamitos.

California is, in fact, home to the oldest legal gambling industry in the
country: Card clubs. Poker has been legal in California since the Gold
Rush. Casinos have been legal in Nevada only 73 years. Card clubs have
operated in the Golden State with impunity for more than 150 years.
California didn't even bother to regulate the card club industry until
about 10 years ago.

Yet mention the possibility of the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians operating a
tribal government casino in a suburb of San Francisco, Calif. - in a former
card club, of all places - and local politicians and newspapers go into
apoplexy. Bigots and hate groups like Stand Up for California light up the
nation's e-mails in protest.

Good old moral San Francisco. San Francisco had casinos before Nevada was a
state. I get approached by more hookers and homeless in one long weekend in
San Francisco than I did in the 10 years I lived in Las Vegas.

It was fairly evident a decade ago - particularly with passage of the
Indian Gaming Regulatory Act - that California would soon be home to the
largest gambling industry in the country. Did anyone doubt that? Not only
does La La Land have the largest number of federally recognized tribes in
the country (107), but it has the largest population.

Anyone who has been keeping even a casual eye on the growth of gambling in
this country over the last 25 years knows that state budget deficits and
market demand is driving the spread of legal gambling. All forms of
gambling. Commercial casinos. Lotteries. Slots at the racetracks. And
tribal casinos. If there wasn't a single tribal government in the state,
there still would be more gambling in California than in just about any
other state in the country.

So now California - as is several of the 28 other states with tribal
casinos - is extorting its Indian governments for the revenue needed to
keep the state budget deficit north of Tijuana. To Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger's credit, he realizes he can achieve his goal of a balanced
budget a lot quicker by allowing one or two tribal gambling operations in
San Francisco.

Then again, that would mean an urban casino. Can't have that.

Perhaps Schwarzenegger should allow Lytton to float it in San Francisco
Bay.

Hmm. Then again, there's Alcatraz Island.

Dave Palermo is special assistant to the chairman of the Hopi Tribe of
Arizona and a freelance writer. He can be reached at dgpalermo@aol.com.