New tribal gaming compacts have been relatively rare in recent years – the governor signed the last one in August 2006. But that changed this month when Gov. Schwarzenegger signed a compact with the Pinoleville Pomo Nation in Mendocino County. The move brings Pinoleville Pomo into the arena of the state’s 57 casino-owning tribes.
The latest agreement, pending an expected federal approval and an environmental authorization, will pave the way for a $50 million, 90,000-square-foot casino in Ukiah. The terms of the compact allow the tribe to operate up to 900 slot machines and give the state 15 percent of its net win revenues.
At a time when the economy is caught in a major recession and the state budget faces a $20 billion shortage, the scramble to find new money is driving both the state and the tribes.
But that scramble can be difficult.
There already are four casinos in Mendocino County, and the prospects for another one in the rugged county with a population of 90,000 are uncertain. The existing casinos are operated by the Cahto Indian Tribe, Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians and the Sherwood Valley Rancheria.
The tribe is confident and is putting together financing for the new casino.
But others aren’t so sure if a new casino is a good move in Mendocino.
“They have to pay taxes, they have to comply with CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act), they have to realize that the casino has to be developed in accordance with local laws,” said Cheryl Schmit of Stand Up for California, a group that favors stringent regulatory oversight over casino gaming.
Berle Anderson, a local historian who also has been critical of the casinos, agreed.
“Quite honestly, I just don’t think we have the tourist traffic to support another casino,” she said.
Tribal Chairwoman Leona Williams was not immediately available to comment.
The 250-member tribe hopes to begin construction at the 8.8-acre site of U.S. 101 by the middle of the year. The casino is expected to generate 225 full time jobs as well as an estimated 150 construction jobs. The tribe has 250 members.
One sticking point during the compact negotiations was the use of union labor, according to tribal attorney Michael Canales.
Canales said he had been asked in Sacramento by the union to use union contractors, according to a report in the Ukiah daily Journal. “We literally had to take bullets early on in Sacramento to say no we cannot do that,’” Canales was quoted as saying.
The compacts, which require legislative approval, are agreements negotiated between the tribes and the state that define the level of allowable gambling. There are 58 tribe-operated casinos across California, and 20 of them are in two counties, San Diego and Riverside, which have 10 each, according to the California Gambling Control Commission.
State revenues related to the tribal compacts totals about $300 million annually, according to one report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office. In that fiscal year, most of the payments, about $173 million, “were made to two special funds, the primary uses of which are to disburse grants to non-compact tribes and local governments affected by tribal casinos.”
The state, through a revenue-sharing trust fund, distributes grants of $1.1 million per year to tribes that have no casino or only a small casino, those with fewer than 350 slot machines.