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California State Assembly Approves Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria’s Controversial Casino Compact

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On May 10, the California State Assembly ratified the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria’s compact for the tribe’s proposed 3,000-slot machine and card games casino adjacent to Rohnert Park in Sonoma County in a 64-3 vote, reported NBC Bay Area. Gov. Jerry Brown inked the agreement on March 27.

The deal now goes to the Interior Department for approval, which has 45 days to ratify or reject it. “I would put the odds at 99 percent” that the Interior will approve it, Anthony Cohen, a senior member at Cohen, Clement, Fitzpatrick & Kenworthy with experience in Indian law, told the Press Democrat in a May 11 article. If the Interior does not issue an opinion within that time frame, the compact automatically goes into effect, Cohen said.

The controversial compact, which was expected to take six months for a decision, rushed through the legislative process. The Senate approved the compact in a 34-4 vote in its first hearing before the state legislature on May 1, which occurred much sooner than expected.

The compact stirred tribal opposition, because it involves significantly more revenue sharing by the tribe than other compacts in the state. Among the requirements, the tribe must contribute an amount that eventually will reach $12 million a year to fill special state funds that assist Indian tribes without gambling operations. The Federated Indians has previously drawn money from the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund, which now has a $28 million deficit.

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Tribes opposed to the proposed casino contend the rush for a senate hearing was “clearly an effort to get this through before the tribes can get organized against it,” Michael Lombardi, chairman of the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians’ gaming commission in Riverside County, told the on May 2.

But, surprisingly, Paula Treat, a lobbyist for the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians in Riverside County, which runs one of the state’s largest casinos, Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, California, said during an informational hearing of the Senate in the State Capitol on May 1 that the tribe does not oppose the agreement, the newspaper reported on May 3. “This is not a compact that we would have agreed to; every tribe is a sovereign nation. But we are not opposed to this compact,” Treat said.

Those in support of the casino highlight the thousands of jobs the casino would create, also serving as an economic stimulus to the North Bay economy and 1,300-member tribe.

In accordance with the National Indian Gaming Commission’s order of approval for the project, the tribe must break ground on the project during the dry season, April 15 to October 15, said Scott Nielson, executive vice president and chief development officer for Station Casinos, a Las Vegas-based gaming company that will manage the casino for its first seven years. Station Casinos has covered $200 million in financing for the project, which is estimated to cost $700 million.
After Interior approval, the county and the tribe have 90 days to sign an agreement concerning the casino’s impacts before work can begin.