Mayor Glass’ strategy to fend off Indian casinos is to ally with the Graton Indians and hope that the Graton can use their political muscle to prevent the Dry Creek Indians from being allowed to open a casino south of Petaluma. This sounds like settling for half a loaf, but in fact it is much worse.
The Dry Creek Indians, unlike the Graton Indians, have a long history as a tribal unit. Their River Rock Casino will likely lose almost all its business to the new Graton Casino, which leapfrogged over it to be closer to San Francisco. The only hope for the Dry Creek will be to leapfrog the Graton. Ignoring for a moment the jurisdictional issues raised by Stop the Casino 101 Coalition, the Dry Creek need to get two fundamental approvals to open a casino on this off-reservation site. First, they need to have the land taken into trust by the United States. Second, they need a two-fold determination by the Secretary of Interior--that the casino will be beneficial to the tribe and that it will not be detrimental to the surrounding community--as well as a concurrence by the Governor.
Taking land into trust is a given. A recent study revealed that the federal government just about never turns down an application to take land into trust. Nor has any approval been successfully challenged in court.
The fight is usually over the two-part determination. Until President Obama was elected, this was rarely granted. Strict limits had been put in place, and wealthy tribes with existing casinos (and their Las Vegas partners) would lobby against approval of new competing casinos. The Obama administration has changed that. They abolished the prior rules enacted to limit the ability of tribes to qualify for off-reservation casinos, and approved as many casinos in Obama’s first four and one-half years in office as existed when he took office. Experts expect the number of off-reservation casinos approved to increase dramatically during Obama’s last years in office.
Most important for Petaluma, the Obama administration has refused to deny new off-reservation sites just to protect tribes with existing casinos. Decisions are to be based on the merits. This policy was followed in California. In September 2011, the Obama administration announced approval of two off-reservation casinos, one for the North Fork Rancheria near Fresno and the other for the Enterprise Rancheria near Marysville. Powerful tribes had lobbied heavily against these casinos, including the tribes which operate Thunder Valley and Cache Creek, but they were unsuccessful. North Fork was approved because they could not support themselves with their existing casino, an argument Dry Creek will likely be able to make. If the wealthy tribes could not derail North Fork and Enterprise, the Graton are not going to be able to derail Dry Creek.
Nor will Petaluma have any better luck with Governor Brown. The Governor has made clear his support for expansion of Indian gaming and for off-reservation casinos. When he was mayor of Oakland, he sought an off-reservation casino for Oakland. As Governor, he has concurred in both federal approvals for off-reservation casinos he has considered. Again, he was heavily lobbied by the wealthy tribes to disapprove these and again he refused to protect these tribes.
Petaluma politicians are either fooling themselves or trying to fool the electorate if they think they can sit by while Graton opens a Nevada-style casino and that the Graton will be able to stop Dry Creek. The best chance Petaluma has of stopping the Petaluma Indian casino is to stop the Graton Casino before it is too late.