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Urban casinos: Too little regulation, too many loopholes, too much money

Last year, California Indian gaming stole the gambling crown, generating
more profits than Nevada’s iconic casinos. Unfortunately, this
barely-regulated new economy has holes big enough and pockets deep enough to
swallow entire communities like San Pablo, California and the entire East
Bay.

In 2000, Congressman George Miller of Contra Costa infamously slipped into a
House budget omnibus bill an amendment to the 1988 Indian Gaming Affairs
Regulatory Act, retroactively giving the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians a
nine-acre reservation smack in the center of San Pablo. They have since
installed almost 1,000 slot machines at Casino San Pablo.

This is truly reprehensible because the people of the greater East Bay
communities–from which it overwhelmingly draws its profits and which it
disproportionately impacts–have never had a chance to voice their concerns
over Casino San Pablo’s presence or expansion.

According to the results of a phone poll conducted in December by The
Tarrance Group, 72 percent of East Bay voters oppose plans of Indian tribes
to expand on newly-acquired lands and establish casinos in the Bay Area,
while 76 percent are opposed to Casino San Pablo’s planned expansion into a
Las Vegas-style casino. It is no surprise that East Bay opposition is so
high, because East Bay residents have the most to lose.

The East Bay Coalition Against Urban Casinos is comprised of more than 1,000
concerned East Bay residents, business owners, and clergy fighting to keep
urban casinos, and the enormous social problems that accompany them, out of
our communities.

Casino San Pablo has become infamous in the halls of Sacramento and
Washington, D.C. as a “poster child” for all that is wrong with urban
casinos. Today, the casino hosts nearly 1,000 electronic bingo slot machines
that look and sound nearly identical to their Las Vegas counterparts–a clear
violation of the letter and spirit of the law that governs them.

In Sacramento last year, the legislature refused to approve a compact with
the Lyttons that would have originally called for 5,000 slot machines and
another compact that later called for 2,500. This is tantamount to
legislative intent; California legislators recognized a bad deal when they
saw one. However, the Lytton Band went ahead and installed almost 1,000 slot
machines that burst the boundaries of the current agreement which allows for
“bingo” devices.

In addition, the impact of Casino San Pablo and its bingo slot machines has
already been felt in surrounding communities with reports of traffic, crime,
and other related issues. A study conducted by the Contra Costa Health
Department on Casino San Pablo predicted that the planned expansion “could
result in one additional traffic accident each day, three additional
ambulance transports from the casino to local hospitals and delayed
ambulance response and transport times due to increased traffic congestion.”

Another study showed a casino loaded up with slot machines might bring an
additional lane’s worth of traffic to an already jammed I-80 on the Eastern
side of the Bay Bridge.

And on October 3rd, the Fairfield Daily Republic reported that a Fairfield
woman was assaulted and robbed in the early morning of her winnings after
two men followed her home after a successful night at Casino San Pablo.

Casino San Pablo is only one of the many urban casinos planned for
communities across California. In Richmond alone, two small, landless tribes
with the backing of big-money investors have taken steps towards building
Las Vegas-size urban casinos in the already troubled East Bay city.

Fortunately, there are elected officials taking measures to insure that
local communities are not bulldozed by those trying to jump to the head of
the line of what some see as California’s new Gold Rush.

In Washington, Senator Dianne Feinstein has successfully introduced S. 113,
and has been aided by Senator John McCain. The bill is currently awaiting a
vote on the Senate floor and would reverse Congressman Miller’s egregious
2000 amendment. It would remove all slot machines and halt plans for further
expansion of Casino San Pablo until all of the surrounding community has a
chance to weigh in on the issue through the formal process required by
Federal law.

As Sacramento and Washington grapple with all of the issues pertaining to
Indian gaming, the first step to reform is ensure everyone plays by the
rules and start with the most glaring: Casino San Pablo.

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