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California tribe gets casino land okay

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AUBURN, Calif. ? One Indian tribe is pushing casino plans that Nevada gaming interests see as a direct threat.

The United Auburn Indian Community on the outskirts of Sacramento has a federal green light to build a casino that would be the first within the confines of the California capitol's metropolitan area. It would also lie astride the route that California gamblers take to go to Reno, Nev.

The federal Department of the Interior announced plans Jan. 4 to place 58 acres into trust on the eastern unincorporated fringes of the Sacramento metropolitan area near Rocklin. The tribe released a fact sheet that said it planned a casino with around 200,000 square feet and over 1,100 employees.

A columnist in the Reno Gazette-Journal warned his readers that the Auburn casino "is the beginning of something historically significant," although he wasn't sure what. "Whether it is the beginning of the end of the Nevada gaming-based economy as we know it is unclear," wrote Jon Ralston, a gaming industry analyst. But he noted that Nevada-based companies were now willing to throw in their lot with Indian tribes.

The casino will be built and operated by Station Casinos, Inc. of Las Vegas, with whom the tribe entered into a development services agreement. The tribe's attorneys, including Indian gaming attorney Howard Dickstein have stated in the press that Station Casinos, Inc. will take 22 percent of the net proceeds.

This arrangement is slated to last for anywhere between five and seven years at which time the tribe can either manage the casino themselves or renew their management contract with Station Casinos, Inc.

"We congratulate the United Auburn Indian Community and look forward to assisting them in developing and managing their gaming operation and will work to strengthen the alliance that the tribe has forged with the local community as we proceed with the development process,'' said Glenn Christianson, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Station Casinos Inc.

Though the project got off to a rocky start, with several citizen's groups and elected officials expressing concerns about increased traffic, congestion and crime, the United Auburn Indian Community went through a long and methodical process of easing citizen concerns.

It worked with local law enforcement and addressed the concerns of the citizen's groups. The tribe found an unlikely ally in Cheryl Schmitt, co-director of Stand Up for California, a group that opposes gambling expansion in the Golden State.

"The Auburn tribe has set an example of how Indian gaming should be done," said Schmitt.

Schmitt said that since tribal gaming is legal the best recourse is to work with tribes to make sure that proposed developments will comply with local concerns. She said the tribe has adequately addressed the crime issue by agreeing to foot the bill for five additional Placer County Sheriff's Department deputies.

"Our agreement also includes funding for several road improvement projects as well as sheriff, fire and emergency services; appreciation of local zoning, building and design guidelines and $50,000 annually to the California Council on Problem Gambling," Jessica Tavares, chairwoman for the United Auburn Indian Community, said.

Placer County Supervisor Robert Weygandt said the Sheriff's Department would receive $450,000 from the agreement, with an equal amount to the Placer Fire

Protection District. Additionally Weygandt said that the total payment is conservatively estimated at $30 million, with funding for specific county projects, including money for road improvements, gambling addiction programs and an eventual payment of $100,000 annually to preserve open space and park land.

These figures were all covered in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the tribe and the county about three years ago. Weygandt and Placer County counsel Anthony La Boff both say that the MOU guarantees annual payments to a local governmental agency in lieu of taxes.

Though Weygandt lauded the project and the accompanying MOU, he said that if not for federal action, it would have been highly improbable that the Board of Supervisors would have agreed to let the tribe go ahead with the project.

"I was getting constantly hammered by people in the county who vehemently opposed any kind of casino, however, we had to be realistic and recognize that federal law and congressional action have given the Auburn tribe the right to conduct this kind of business," he said.

He added, "The Auburn tribe responded by acting on good faith."

LaBoff said while the decision to have the MOU with the tribe was not popular with some citizens it was the best solution to the problem.

"We think that it (the MOU) is an excellent solution for everyone," he said.

The United Auburn Indian Community has a long and often contentious history with the United States government. The federal government established the Auburn Rancheria in 1917 for local Miwok and Maidu bands. In 1953 with the passage of the congressional Rancheria Act, the Auburn Rancheria was terminated and the tribal landholdings ? with the exception of a 2.8-acre parcel ? were sold. The tribe itself was terminated in 1967.

In 1991 surviving members and descendants of the Rancheria formed the United Auburn Indian Community and were granted federal recognition in 1994 by the

Clinton administration. Part of the re-recognition agreement held that the tribe could find a suitable land-base in Placer County, allowing them to establish a gaming facility outside of their traditional land base 20 or so miles from the proposed casino site.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Wayne Smith said that the decision should be entered into the federal register within a few days. A 30-day period for public comment will follow.