Bay Area City Eyed for Casino

California’s Bay Area, probably one of the most fertile untapped grounds for Indian gaming, has become a battleground for several landless tribes wanting the rights to build a casino on Mare Island, an abandoned Navy shipyard (l.), now owned by the city of Vallejo.

Vallejo, one of the poorest cities in California’s Bay Area, and one that declared bankruptcy a few years ago, may be looking to change its luck by hosting an Indian casino on Mare Island, site of a former Navy shipyard that closed in the 1990s.

Among several proposals for 150 acres is one that would allow an Indian tribe to acquire the land and try to put it into trust for a reservation.

The proposal would pump millions into the city’s economy and generate thousands of jobs, say supporters. “I think we need to improve this place and one way to do it and increase the revenue going into the city coffers is through a casino,” 86-year-old Abraham Anthony Wakin told the Contra Costa Times.

“Why not utilize that to make this city a draw?”  asked another resident. “People aren’t going to come here to go to an industrial park … They’re going to come here to go to a world-class resort or a casino out there.”

California’s voters roundly rejected just this same sort of proposal two weeks ago, and an opponent of this one declared last week, “Our money should be fueling our local economy, not slot machines.”

However Dino Beltran, treasurer for the Koi Nation calls the idea, “the most exciting project on the West Coast.” Two others are also interested in tribal gaming for the site, including the Elem Indian Colony and Friends of North Mare Island, LLLC. The latter are both Pomo Indian tribes.

The Koi Nation has federal recognition but lacks a reservation. It would need to petition the Bureau of Indian Affairs to put the land into trust—and open up accusations of “reservation shopping” from those who oppose tribes acquiring land far from their homeland for a reservation.

The Elem tribe, according to a spokesman, Agustin Garcia would require an act of Congress for it to operate gaming on Mare Island because it already has a reservation.

Garcia added, “The challenging economic condition of Vallejo and the effects of the Navy’s departure from Mare Island further justifies congressional action because with it, Congress can assist two hard-working, but disadvantaged primarily minority communities with a viable solution with no cost to taxpayers.”

The Elem are partnering with gaming industry veteran Gary Green and the Hnedak Bobo Group Inc.

The Friends of Mare Island LLC, want to build a 3000-slot casino resort with a car museum, boutique retail shops, dining, a 3,000 seat Greek amphitheater and a riverboat landing on what is now 157 acres of asphalt and abandoned Navy buildings.

The Koi previously proposed building a casino near the Oakland International Airport. They are working with the Cordish Cos.

The Vallejo City Council heard the competing proposals at it meeting last week, a hearing attended by more than 200 spectators.

Mayor Osby Davis declared, “My first take on this is that I’m excited. We’ve asked for proposals before and gotten nothing, especially during the recession. But now with the economy and the city doing a bit better, we have a lot of options. We have to choose carefully.”

Councilwoman Pippin Dew-Costa was mindful of the electoral rebuke that the voters of California delivered to the North Fork Tribe of Mono Indians, who also wanted an off-reservation casino.

Cheryl Schmit, of Stand Up for California, which led the electoral campaign against Proposition 48, agrees. She told SF Gate, “These two new proposals have the same problem as the North Fork casino, and to me if they go through, it’s like a snowball starting to roll downhill. The fact that so many voted ‘no’ on the North Fork plan means that most people understand off-reservation gaming is a detriment to the community.”