Winemakers Unite To Fight Casino in Napa Valley

Winemakers in California’s Napa Valley like their agricultural valley just the way it is. They are prepared to fight the Mishewal Wappo Tribe of Alexander Valley, which has sued in federal court for recognition—and the possibility of building a casino.

Napa Valley in Northern California has long been known as the U.S. capital when it comes to winemaking. It has nearly 800 wineries. Many of the Valley’s vintners are united in resisting the idea that Napa Valley will someday become known as a gaming capital.

They are fighting the Mishewal Wappo Tribe of Alexander Valley’s attempts to gain recognition from the federal government. The 341-member tribe lost federal status in the 1950’s and is suing in federal court to get it back. Oral arguments were made last summer, but the judge has not yet ruled in the case.

A local grower told Bloomberg last week, “We’re not against them getting recognition, what we don’t like is the threat of the exact type of development that we’ve been saying ‘no’ to for 60 years. We’re about protecting the right to grow agriculture and continue our trade.”

County ordinances protect agricultural land, giving it precedence over development. Much of the land is in state agricultural preserve status. However, a sovereign Indian tribe would be able to ignore such regulations with impunity.

Tribal Chairman Gabaldon said the tribe wants to gain federal recognition before deciding whether to pursue a casino and points to many other economic activities that the tribe could pursue. He concedes, however, that a casino is probably the most lucrative.

Critics of an Indian casino in the Alexander Valley point to neighboring Sonoma County. It has two casinos, including the largest in the state, Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park.

According to Sonoma County Deputy Counsel, quoted by Bloomberg, “Once a group of folks are a recognized tribe, then they have the ability to petition to take land into trust for all sorts of purposes,” said Jeff Brax, Sonoma’s deputy county counsel. “The casino would probably be the first, the most obvious and potentially the most impactful.”

To wineries that criticize a possible casino as a potential polluter, Gabaldon scoffs, “For years, those wineries have polluted the rivers with all the toxins coming from them—and they’re going to complain about pollution?”