Feds Reject Barstow Casino Plan

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Another big blow was struck late last week against the embattled plan for tribal gambling in the desert city of Barstow, as federal officials rejected the land applications of two out-of-the area tribes.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of the Interior rejected requests from both the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians and the Big Lagoon Rancheria to open side by side casinos in Barstow.

The casino plans are contingent on the land being taken into trust by the federal government as Indian land. But in a letter from assistant secretary for Indian affairs Carl Artman, each tribe's proposal was rejected on the grounds that a casino far away from the actual Indian reservation would have a negative impact on the community back home.

"The remote location of the proposed gaming facility may encourage reservation residents to leave the reservation for an extended period to take advantage of the job opportunities," writes Artman in his letter to Los Coyotes. "The potential departure of a significant number of reservation residents and their families could have serious and far-reaching implications for the remaining tribal community and its continuity as a community."

Federal officials sent a similar letter to Los Coyotes' Barstow partner Big Lagoon, which hails from the northern Humboldt County coastline. In all, according to an Interior Department news release, applications from 11 tribes across the country seeking land away from their reservation were rejected last week.

Los Coyotes tribe members attacked the decision as unfair. In a written statement, the tribe's new chairperson Francine Kupsch said that federal officials are suggesting that "tribal members would be better off poor and unemployed and living on the reservation rather than living off the reservation near the casino with a job."

The Barstow casino plan was approved by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2005, but was met with a chilly reception in the Legislature. Neither the Assembly nor Senate voted on the proposal last year, and there's been no indication that legislators are inclined to do so as 2008 begins. Lawmakers pointed to the same issue as the feds did this week -- the distance of the location from tribal lands -- while Big Lagoon and Los Coyotes leaders have long accused other powerful gaming tribes in southern California of political maneuvering behind the scenes to stifle new competition.

The Sacramento stalemate has led Big Lagoon's leaders in recent months to consider reviving plans for a casino on their north coast reservation, an idea opposed by environmental groups and the governor. Los Coyotes, on the other hand, has maintained that its reservation is too mountainous and remote for development... and that Barstow is its only viable option.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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