Compromise Bill Freezes Casino San Pablo Games

By Richard Brenneman
Friday May 18, 2007

The long-running battle of Casino San Pablo is at an end, with both sides claiming victory. 

Under compromise legislation by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), the Lytton Rancheria band of Pomos can continue to operate slot machine bingo games, but they can’t expand their operation nor can they add Las Vegas-style slots and poker machines. 

The settlement leaves the door open for new casinos, putting an end to a proposal by Governor Arnold Schwarz-enegger to grant Casino San Pablo a monopoly in the Bay Area. 

“I’m glad we have it behind us, and that we have precluded the construction of the big, giant casino,” said Assemblymember Loni Hancock, a leading opponent of the planned expansion of the East Bay’s only tribal casino. 

The terms of the legislation have already been endorsed by tribal chair Margie Mejia, who oversaw the transformation of the casino from a cardroom to a palace for wagering machines. 

“It freezes the number of machines at the current level, and it precludes building anything outside the casino’s current envelope,” Hancock said. 

The law would also overturn the backdating of the acquisition of the casino by the Lytton Rancheria band of Pomos, a provision slipped into federal law in 2000 by U.S. Rep. George Miller. 

Miller’s legal temporal legerdemain could have allowed the tribe to follow less stringent requirements for installing the full-scale Las Vegas gambling machines. 

Under his measure, the tribe would have had an easier path to installing regular slots and poker machines, dubbed Class III machines under federal gambling law, rather than its current collection of slot-like bingo machines, which fall under the less restrictive Class II provision that includes the more typical gaming board and marker bingo games. 

In the face of mounting opposition from local governments, the tribe had opted for bingo machines, installing the first allotment of 500 on Aug. 1, 2005. 

The machines, beyond challenge under federal law, proved a bonanza for both the tribe and the city, and revenues soared. Tribal payments to the city of 7.5 percent of the gross machine wager and a smaller PILOT (payments in lieu of taxes) fee accounted for two-thirds of San Pablo’s general fund budget by the following year, or $10.9 million, according to city records. 

Funds to the city from the 1,050 machines now in place total more than $1 million monthly, more than four times the revenues the city received from the casino’s previous card room incarnation. 

Feinstein’s measure would will also drive the final stake through the heart of the deal once proposed by the tribe and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to allow the tribe to build a massive, 5,000-slot gambling palace with a Bay Area casino monopoly in exchange for giving the state 25 percent of the casino’s take. 

While the measure still needs to pass both houses of Congress and a presidential signature, Hancock said she expects passage as a routine matter.