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Indian Casino Plan Stirs Opposition

March 18, 2000

ROSEVILLE, Calif. (AP) _ Nearly two-thirds of California voters backed Indian gambling last week, with some seeing it as a way to help tribes help themselves.

Not so in Placer County, a fast-growing area northeast of Sacramento where the United Auburn Indian Community plans a $100 million casino. There, 56 percent of voters opposed Proposition 1A and so did 51 percent of those in neighboring El Dorado County.

``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. ``This thing is going to come within four miles of my house.″

Opposition to Indian gambling has been sporadic across California. There is concern in Palm Springs that tribes will make it a casino center, but last week’s ballot measure allowing Nevada-style games on tribal land was supported by 65 percent of voters.

Tribal and Placer County officials want to put a 200,000-square-foot casino 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 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 near the site, a grassy field where cattle now graze.

The tribe already has a signed compact with the state, but opponents still hope to block the casino 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, 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 each day, around the clock. Tribal spokesman Douglas Elmets pointed to the 1,100 new jobs and $80 million a year in expected revenue. Gamblers from as far as San Francisco may stop there instead of continuing along the main route over the Sierra to casinos in Reno.

But critics and supporters alike say the 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.″

Cheryl Schmit opposed the casino, but credits tribal officials with going 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, close to two day-care centers and a Buddhist temple.

This time, the tribe 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 to Schmit, the tribe agreed to create an advisory committee that will hear community grievances and submit to arbitration despite the tribe’s immunity from lawsuits.

Tavares and tribal vice-chair David Keyser say they have sensed resentment since the 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 began pushing for a casino, they say.

``I really resent the Indian privilege that goes along with all this,″ said Steve Hare, who lives near the tribe’s reservation in Newcastle. ``Number two, they’re trashy, the Indian casinos I’ve seen. They’re more like arcades.″

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.

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 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.″

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