As state backs Indian casinos, two counties harbor hopes of rejection
ROSEVILLE, Calif. (AP) – Cheryl Schmit has given up trying to keep a casino out of Placer County.
After her unsuccessful push to get California voters to reject a ballot measure permitting state gambling compacts with Indian tribes, Schmit has reconciled herself to a tribe’s plan to build a casino nearby. She is now trying to get as much protection as possible for surrounding communities.
But many of her neighbors in Placer and El Dorado counties still harbor hopes that it and other casino proposals will be rejected, and say they will do all they can to guarantee it.
”The tribes sat through hearing after hearing listening to some of the most horrible things I could imagine,” Schmit says. ”I left some of those hearings liking Indian gambling a lot more than I did my neighbors.”
Nearly two-thirds of California voters approved Proposition 1A in this month’s primary election, including voters in all but Placer and El Dorado counties.
Many voters saw the measure as a way to help Indian tribes help themselves and didn’t view the casinos as a personal threat, observers on both sides of the issue say.
Not so in Placer County, a fast-growing area just northeast of Sacramento where the United Auburn Indian Community plans a $100 million casino. There, 56 percent of voters opposed 1A, while 51 percent in neighboring El Dorado County voted no.
”People here are a bit more educated about what tribal gaming can be. It can expand and it can come close to your community,” said Brian Swearingen, chairman of the Placer County opposition group Citizens for Safer Communities. ”I live in Rocklin. This thing is going to come within four miles of my house.”
Tribal and Placer County officials want to put a 200,000-square-foot casino on 58 acres in an industrial park, where its nearest neighbors are a county landfill, several factories, a towing yard, sludge treatment plant and recycling center.
”We have the same fears and hopes as everyone else,” said Jessica Tavares, chairwoman of the United Auburn Indian Tribe. ”I wouldn’t want to have my house back up to a casino. Here we’re talking a place where there aren’t any homes.”
But that won’t last long. Already, subdivisions are popping up within eyesight of the site, a grassy field in an unincorporated area near Roseville where cattle now graze.
”A lot of that wasn’t even there before we got here. Then it just went boom, boom, boom,” said Tavares, who lives in nearby Rocklin and now finds herself trying to straddle the needs of – and distrust between – her two communities.
Although the tribe already has a signed compact with the state, leaders in surrounding communities and opponents including Swearingen still hope to block the casino: first as the tribe applies to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and Department of Interior, then through local zoning decisions and ultimately in the courts if other avenues fail.
That could push back the casino’s opening, now slated as early as 2001.
”It brings an element to the community that we don’t want,” Roseville Mayor Harry Crabb said. ”We want to place a lot of emphasis on the families, and certainly gambling is not a family activity. No one is saying there is no compassion for the Indians. There is. But we can only go so far.”
The casino would draw a projected 8,000 gamblers a day, around the clock. Tribal spokesman Douglas Elmets points to the 1,100 new jobs and $80 million a year in revenue expected from the casino. Gamblers from as far as San Francisco may stop there instead of continuing along the main route over the Sierra to casinos in Reno, he said.
But critics and supporters alike say that unlike the resort cities of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J., the United Auburn casino would likely draw many of its customers from the surrounding area, including two nearby retirement communities.
”That’s not the type of thing people think about when they moved here,” said Yvonne Maxfield, who relocated to Rocklin in July. ”It doesn’t matter who’s running it – it’s just the wrong place for it.”
Thirty-year Roseville resident Kathleen Sullivan likes the idea of helping tribal members, but worries the casino will add to traffic and congestion.
”It’s going to change this area, more than it is changing already,” Sullivan said.
Schmit credits Tavares and other tribal officials with going well beyond federal law to work with the community. That effort came as the tribe tried to rebuild relations after its unsuccessful attempt four years ago to put the casino near Schmit’s home in Penryn, close to two day-care centers and a Buddhist temple.
This time, the tribe has agreed to make up for lost local property taxes, pay $900,000 a year to compensate for increased police, fire and emergency services and contribute $50,000 annually to fight compulsive gambling in the county.
Most importantly in Schmit’s eyes, the tribe agreed to create an advisory committee that will hear community grievances, and to submit to arbitration despite the tribe’s immunity from lawsuits.
Tavares and tribal vice-chair David Keyser of Auburn say they have sensed resentment since the United Auburn Indian Community was recreated by an act of Congress in 1994, 27 years after it officially ceased to exist. The ill will was particularly noticeable after the tribe immediately began pushing for a casino, they say.
”I really resent the Indian privilege that goes along with all this,” said Steve Hare, who lives across from the tribe’s roughly 30-acre reservation in Newcastle. ”Number two, they’re trashy, the Indian casinos I’ve seen. They’re more like arcades.”
Hare said he was referring to other Indian casinos, not the reservation or its occupants. But tribal chairwoman Tavares acknowledged the reservation, called the Auburn Rancheria, isn’t pretty, with dozens of junk cars and deteriorating house trailers scattered among the small homes.
”They’re very poor here,” Tavares said. ”It would mean a better life for them.”
The tribe hopes to use money from the casino to buy 1,100 acres near Sheridan, to be divided among as many of the approximately 220 tribal members as wish to relocate.
A school and medical facility would be built there, in accordance with federal requirements for the money, and individual tribal members would get some share of the rest.
Tavares and vice-chair Keyser hope that will help compensate for the childhoods they spent in unheated trailers and hand-me-down clothes.
”Money is at the base of all things. I’m not saying it can buy happiness, but it ought to buy a little bit of something,” Keyser said. ”It’s not like we’re going to all be rich – but not poor, I guess.”
End ADV for March 18-19