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Tribes help smaller tribe build casino

POINT ARENA, Calif. – The Manchester Band of Pomo Indians of the Manchester-Point Arena Rancheria have started work on its new casino in Northern California. What makes it unique is the way the band has arranged the money coming in through compacts to guarantee a loan from other tribes.

“The most exciting thing about the project is that it’s being made possible by other tribes,” Anthony Cohen, Manchester-Point Arena spokesman, said. “With the economy the way it is, it’s very difficult to borrow money, and it’s especially difficult to borrow money for gaming enterprises, but what’s going on here is the Manchester-Point Arena is working with two other tribes. We can’t identify the other tribes yet, because nothing is finalized, but one is a California tribe, the other is a New Mexico tribe, and they are considering and hopefully, ultimately they will decide to go ahead with a loan of $10 million.

“That’s the first part of tribes helping other tribes. The other part is that with a loan of that size for a facility as remote as Manchester-Point Arena many members would say ‘No, we’re not going to do that because the tribe has nothing to offer for security, aside from their land.’ But in this particular case they are able to offer security, their annual distributions from the revenue sharing trust fund, which is a fund created under the compact of California by contributions made by other tribes.

“The compacts that were entered into during the Gov. Gray Davis era (1999-2003) call for gaming tribes to pay a fee into the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund. The money in that fund is distributed to tribes that have less than 350 slot machines operating. It comes to a little over $1 million a year that the non-gaming tribes get from this fund. It’s a great secondary benefit from those Davis compacts; $1 million a year is not a lot of money for a tribe with thousands of members, but in this case it’s enough that tribal lenders see it as security. So we not only have two tribes that are willing to stick their necks out and lend money in these difficult times, but we also have the generosity of all the other tribes who are contributing to the revenue trust fund, enabling the two lending tribes to feel comfortable that this is a safe thing to do.”

The reservation is less than a mile from the ocean, which is good for tourism, but there are no towns of any substantial size anywhere close, so the tribe is looking to local people or people who are coming to fish or to enjoy the scenery and the remoteness of the area.

“While not all the papers have been signed, the tribe is so sure the money will come through that they have already started grating the land where the casino will stand,” Cohen said. “There is no further permit process, the tribe has a compact. There’s no doubt about the status of the land for the casino. It has followed the process of the compact and completed the environmental review. There’s no opposition from the county, or anyone as far as we can see, and the tribe is working closely with both the county and the town of Point Arena to keep it that way.

“We are starting small with 200 slot machines, 9,000 square feet and a separate administrative building that’s about 4,000 square feet. We will be looking at building a larger casino after that, and we are also looking at offering a broader range of entertainment, maybe even a resort at some point, because it is an amazingly beautiful area, right on the Garcia River. It would be ideal if it turns out that the public wants to combine those things, the beautiful outdoors during the daytime with something to do at night. But right now we are looking at appealing to the local people first, and the people who frequent the area for the various outdoor activities, because there is a large tourism business, there of people who are trying to get away from everything and who are fishing, hunting, backpacking and camping, but at the moment there is nothing to do at night.”

Cohen said the project will not only bring tourism to the area, but also jobs, as there are not enough Manchester-Point Arena tribal members in the area to staff a casino, and they hope it will help bring other businesses to the area and turn their remote part of the woods into an entertainment destination.