A win in fight over casinos

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Petalumans don’t want a casino anywhere near the city limits. That much is clear.

In a 2006 advisory ballot measure, 80 percent of Petaluma voters said they do not want a casino to be built near the city. All of our city council members have been united in opposition to casino development.

In the effort to thwart Indian gaming, which has already taken hold in the county, the city council has sent letters, and Councilman Mike Healy has even testified before Congress, in opposition to a bill that would take land into trust for the Lytton tribe near Windsor.

The bill, H.R. 597, was flawed when it was introduced and passed in the House. As it now makes its way through the Senate, the bill prohibits gaming on the Lytton’s Windsor property and any other land the tribe takes into federal trust in Sonoma County — north of Highway 12.

That is a key distinction.

The bill also prohibits gaming on any land the Lytton tribe owns in Sonoma County south of Highway 12, but only for 22 years. After that time, according to the legislation, Sonoma County south of Highway 12 is open for casino development.

As city leaders have pointed out, this paints a giant bull’s-eye on Petaluma. Rohnert Park already has the Graton Casino, so the bucolic land with easy freeway access around Petaluma would be the logical choice of a tribe bent on developing another Sonoma County casino.

Indeed, the Dry Creek tribe, which owns Geyserville’s River Rock Casino, already owns 277 acres south of Petaluma on Kastania Road, and casino opponents have long been concerned about the tribe’s intentions.

The bill taking the Lytton’s Windsor land into trust should have included a prohibition against gaming anywhere in Sonoma County. The geographic distinction was an unnecessary compromise. By now, however, it’s too late in the process to amend the bill, so officials are attempting to use a bilateral agreement to codify the prohibition on gaming.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors this week amended their agreement with the Lytton tribe to include a permanent ban on gaming anywhere in the county, including the south county. While it does not carry the weight of federal legislation, the agreement is enforceable. We commend the county for working to protect Petaluma from casino development and the tribe for showing good faith by renouncing gaming in the county. (The tribe already owns the profitable San Pablo Lytton Casino in the East Bay.)

Petaluma even made an effort to insert itself into the county-tribe agreement, but in the end it didn’t make much difference. The city attempted to become a party to the agreement with veto power over any future changes to the gaming prohibition.

The city argued that, in 20 years, a different board of supervisors could undo key provisions in the agreement, and the city’s veto is a safeguard. But we trust that the county is just as adamant about preventing another casino as the city, and who’s to say future city leaders would feel as strongly as today’s casino opposing council members.

Sonoma County already has two casinos, which is probably already more than the market can bear. Any new casino development would likely be attempted south of the Graton Casino in order to get closer to the lucrative Bay Area customer base. Petalumans should remain vigilant in opposition to casino development to make sure it doesn’t happen in our backyard.

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