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New Hurdles Ahead For East Bay Casino Deals: By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday August 27, 2004

Two major stumbling blocks landed in the paths of would-be East Bay casino developers this week, the first in the form of legislative resistance to an exclusive Bay Area franchise the governor wants to award a San Pablo casino and the second in the form of a legal motion to block a major casino at Point Molate.  

Defeat of the San Pablo pact, signed Monday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and representatives of the Lytton Band of the Pomo Tribe, would seem to be good news for would-be developers of gambling palaces at Point Molate and North Richmond. 

The governor’s deal, a political hot potato handed to lawmakers at the last minute, has generated strong opposition from Democrats and some Republicans in the state Assembly and Senate and its fate remains uncertain as the Legislature’s session nears its end today. 

Berkeley Assemblymember Loni Hancock has emerged as an outspoken foe of the San Pablo plan, and intends to submit a state constitutional amendment that would end such last-minute casino bombshells by requiring that lawmakers be given at least 60 days to study casino agreements before voting on them. 

Reached on the Assembly floor Thursday, Hancock said “So far, no news is good news. It looks like they haven’t got the support for it, so during the b reak we’ll be able to consider all of these contracts and the direction they would take the state.”  

ChevronTexaco, owner of the Bay Area’s largest refinery, located at Point Richmond, recently presented Richmond City Councilmembers a counter offer to th e casino proposal offered by Berkeley developer James D. Levine. 

The oil company and the Ione Band of Miwoks—a tribe, unlike the Lyttons, with historic roots in the East Bay—followed up Tuesday by filing a motion in Contra Costa County Superior Court see king a temporary restraining order that would block next week’s planned Richmond City Council vote on the Levine accord. 

A special hearing on the motion is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday in Department 22 of the Contra Costa County court. 

Both Levine and C hevronTexaco would guarantee access for the Bay Trail through the site and preserve open space as park land, but Levine’s offer could fatten the city’s coffers far more than the petro-giant’s pitch. 

Key documents detailing plans for the San Pablo and Poi nt Molate casinos entered the public record over the last week, one the compact signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the other a detailed contract with the City of Richmond offered by a would-be Berkeley casino developer. 

Though reduced from a bigger-than-Vegas 5,000-slot-machine monster to a more Sin City-sized 2,500-slot gambling palace, Schwarzenegger’s plans for Casino San Pablo still face a rocky road before state legislators. 

The other agreement, presented by James D. Levine and his Upstream P oint Molate L.L.C., outlines the proposed conditions the Richmond Council will consider if and when they vote on plans for a major gambling waterfront resort on a former Navy fuel depot. 

But Levine’s proposal, as well as plans for another casino in North Richmond, could be torpedoed in the increasingly unlikely event legislators did approve Schwarzenegger’s pact with the Lytton Band of Pomo tribespeople for the 2,500-slot machine casino in San Pablo. It guarantees a ban on other casinos within a 35-mile radius—effectively handing the Lyttons a Bay Area casino monopoly. 

While typical legislation is subjected to committee and fiscal reviews in both the Assembly and Senate, lawmakers were told they would have their first and only say on the governor’s Lytt on accord and four other casino pacts when they come up for a floor vote. 

But the real question in the East Bay is what will happen to two other casino proposals currently under consideration in Richmond and North Richmond. 

Berkeley developer Levine and partner John Salmon are forging ahead with their plans for a Point Molate casino, and the Scotts Valley Pomo Band are continuing to push their Sugar Bowl Casino in North Richmond. 

Levine’s proposal includes an operating contract with Harrah’s Operating Company, a subsidiary of Harrah’s Entertainment—a firm with 67 years’ experience in the gambling business. 

Starting from a single bingo parlor in Reno, Harrah’s has branched out both nationally and internationally, becoming the first New York Stock Excha nge issue devoted entirely to gambling. The company maintains a strong position in tribal gambling operations. 

The Lyttons’ San Pablo casino would be jointly operated by the Maloof family—a clan that owns a casino in Las Vegas and the Sacramento Kings of the NBA and gives generously to the GOP—and the Wintun Band of the Rumsey Tribe, operators of the Cache Creek Casino in western Yolo County. 

The Scotts Valley Band has reached an agreement with Florida investor Alan Ginsburg’s North American Sports Mana gement to run their proposed casino in North Richmond. 

On another casino front this week, foes of a tribal casino in Rohnert Park lost their bid to oust two City Councilmembers who voted for a tribal casino that promised the city $200 million paid out ov er 20 years. The duo successfully prevailed in a recall election Tuesday by 55-to-45 and 56-to-44 percent margins. 

Two other councilmembers who voted for the casino face anti-gambling challengers in November. 

In other Northern California casino news, th e Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported Tuesday that two tribal groups have signed an agreement with a prominent Sonoma County Native American family to building a $70 million, 1500-slot casino in Cloverdale on land already held in trust by the Bureau of Ind ian affairs.›i