California Tribe Aims For Casino

The 792-member Tejon Tribe recently confirmed that it hopes to open a casino in Kern County, California. County supervisors unanimously voted to draft a Memorandum of Understanding with the tribe, and tribal officials said they plan to apply to have land in the area taken into federal trust.

The Kern County, California board of supervisors recently unanimously voted to have the County Administrative Office begin working on a Memorandum of Understanding with the Tejon Tribe, which confirmed it plans to pursue a casino in the area. Tribal Chairwoman Kathryn Morgan said the 792-member Tejons, the only federally recognized tribe in Kern County, have an option on 305 acres in Mettler. “We have to go through this process that we’ve been involved in. It’s a long process. Best case scenario is two years, but it’s going to be probably longer than that,” she noted. The land needs to be placed in federal trust.

Tribal spokesman Kevin Wadzinski said the Bureau of Indian Affairs requires “that the land taken into trust for gaming purposes be in the best interest of the tribe, and not detrimental to the surrounding communities.” Once that determination is made, he said, the tribe must reach an agreement with the state governor and local governments, and also must deal with any impacts that could result from gaming.

County Supervisor Mike Maggard said, “I look forward to negotiating and how to work through the process. I want to understand the implications on all the other people that I serve and the way I deliver services to them.”
 Maggard said he has questions about ambulance response, fire protection and trash collection in regard to a casino. Other Kern County supervisors said they had questions about the county’s regulating authority and environmental impacts from the tribe’s plans.

Supervisor Maggard said he wants an “active dialog” with the tribe, and it’s important that the process is open to the public.

Morgan said a future casino could benefit tribal members and the rest of the county. “This is the next step to be able to provide for our families, provide education, health, homes, everything. It’s what we waited for all this time, and we’re going to work for,” she stated. “We want to educate the board about how the government-to-government relationship is going to work.“

The gaming watchdog group Stand Up for California has filed documents with the federal government challenging the legality of being federally recognized and raising concerns about the tribe’s status and casino plans.