Tribes Can’t Block Another Tribe’s Casino

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – The small Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe can build a casino in a neighboring county after a federal judge rejected challenges brought by neighbors, including other tribal casinos.
     U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley sided with the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs in their decision take 40 acres of land into trust for the Enterprise Rancheria of Estom Yumeka Maidu to build a 105,750-square-foot Class II casino in Yuba County.
     The Enterprise Rancheria, in Oroville in Butte County, chose the site south of Yuba City in nearby Yuba County due to Butte County’s saturated casino market.
     The tribe applied to place the land in federal trust status for gaming, citing its historical occupation of an area including modern day Butte and Yuba counties. Uncle Sam determined in 2011, and Gov. Jerry Brown concurred in 2012, that the land was eligible for an off-reservation casino and would not be detrimental to the surrounding community.
     Opponents – including the nearby United Auburn Indian Community and Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians of the Colusa Indian Community, and several advocacy groups – filed numerous legal challenges to the casino and the process by which it was approved.
     But Judge Nunley determined that government fulfilled its duties under the National Environmental Policy Act by considering a reasonable number of alternative sites for the casino before granting approval.
     “(G)iven that plaintiffs did not provide any additional alternatives, the court cannot presume that an adequate alternative exists somewhere. Without anything further from plaintiffs, the court cannot conclude that defendants failed to look hard enough to find a superior site,” the judge wrote in his Sept. 24 order.
     The United Auburn Indian Community (UAIC), which operates the Thunder Valley Casino 20 miles away from Rancheria’s site, said the government downplayed the financial harm the new casino will inflict on the United Auburn tribe.
     But the government said there is no law that gives tribes immunity from economic competition, and though the United Auburn tribe’s casino will likely see a revenue reduction of 13.8 percent, it will remain profitable even if a new casino enters the market.
     “Plaintiff UAIC indicates that the drop in revenue would be ‘no drop in the bucket,’ however there is no indication that this planned casino would jeopardize the UAIC casino’s viability,” Nunley wrote, adding that the Auburn tribe did not offer any compelling analysis to support its claim of a harmful economic impact.
     Nunley found the government properly determined that the project would not be detrimental to the surrounding community, because the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act does not require that a new casino be completely devoid of negative impacts.
     “(C)ompetition alone from the proposed gaming facility in an overlapping market is not sufficient to conclude that it would result in a detrimental impact,” Nunley ruled.
     He also rejected arguments that project would pose a danger to six fish species or eradicate the United Auburn tribe’s cultural and historical ties to the site.
     The Enterprise Rancheria project was originally planned as a 318,000-square-foot casino, with a 170-room resort hotel and 1,700 slot machines. The scaled back the project in last August. It plans to begin construction in November.
     Attorneys did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
     The four major tribal divisions of the Maidu have lived in the Sierra foothills for at least 7,000 years. Alfred Kroeber estimated their population at 1,100 in 1910. They were federally recognized in 1915, and their population slipped to only 93 in the 1930 census. Census figures for tribal members in those days are unreliable, however, as the federal government was “terminating” tribes. The Maidu population recovered to about 3,500 by the 1990s. Their language is virtually extinct.

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