Department of Interior Gives Boost to Tribal Casino in Yuba County

From the Sacramento Bee - September 2, 2011

The U.S. Department of Interior today granted a key victory to a Butte County tribe that has been long frustrated in efforts to build a $150 million casino resort in rural Yuba County.

Larry Echo Hawk, the department's assistant secretary for Indian affairs, declared today that the Enterprise Rancheria of Maidu Indians meets federal requirements to build a gambling facility.

The tribe has been working for years to win permission to take land into trust to build a casino, hotel and convention center on property between State Highway 65 and Forty Mile Road near the Sleep Train Amphitheatre in Wheatland.

In 2002, the Yuba County Board of Supervisors signed an agreement with the Enterprise Rancheria to receive $83 million over 20 years from the casino development. And the city of Marysville stood to receive $4.8 million over 15 years from the project.

But critics blasted the casino plan as "reservation shopping," allowing the Enterprise tribe to develop a gambling resort in a more economically suitable site than its land in Oroville in Butte County, 36 miles away. In 2005, Yuba County voters rejected the casino plan in an advisory measure by a 52 to 48 percent vote.

But Yuba County Supervisor Mary Jane Griego said she believes searing employment in the region has generated renewed local support for a casino and the potential of thousands of new jobs.

"This is the news of the century as far as I'm concerned," Griego said. "This project is going to make a significant difference."

The Yuba County casino, slated for land that was formerly reserved for a failed bid to build an Indy-style racetrack, is still a long way from fruition. Gov. Jerry Brown still must agree with the Department of Interior decision that the tribe can take land into trust for a casino. The governor and the tribe also need to negotiate a gambling agreement that is approved by the Legislature.

Echo Hawk today also approved an application by the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, which is seeking to build a casino along state Highway 99 in Madera County. But he rejected a bid by the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians to construct a Richmond casino overlooking the San Francisco Bay. He said the Richmond project "did not meet the requirements" for federal approval.

However, Echo Hawk said gambling applications by the Enterprise and North Fork tribes "meet the strong standing under the law."

"Both tribes have historical connections to the proposed gaming sites," Echo Hawk said in a statement. "And both proposals have strong support from the local community, which are important factors in our review."

Cheryl Schmit, a gambling watchdog who opposes the Enterprise casino project, said the project should have been rejected by the Department of the Interior because it sets a bad precedent by helping tribes shopping for off-reservation lands to build gambling resorts.

"The community (in Yuba County) voted in opposition to a casino," Schmit said. "They've disenfranchised the voters. The Indian Gaming Regulation did not promise every Indian tribe a Las Vegas casino."


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