More than a dozen opponents of urban Indian casinos urged the Petaluma City Council on Monday night to join an ongoing legal fight against the Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park as a way to also prevent a possible Petaluma-area casino.
The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria plans to open on Nov. 5 what will be the Bay Area's largest gambling hall, with 3,000 slot machines. The Stop the Casino 101 Coalition is appealing a Sonoma County judge's August ruling against its effort to invalidate Graton's contract with the state that allowed the Las Vegas-style casino on 254 acres of land it purchased on Wilfred Avenue.
The anti-casino group has turned its focus to trying to add the legal clout of Petaluma to its fight.
The group is concerned about 277 acres of land east of Highway 101 near Kastania Road owned by the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians. The tribe, which owns River Rock Casino in Geyserville, is seeking to have the land taken into federal trust — a necessary step before a casino can be built.
Although the tribal chairman has said development plans for the land don't include a casino, Petaluma and county leaders don't fully trust that assertion.
The Graton casino in Rohnert Park likely will siphon off millions of dollars from Dry Creek's River Rock casino further north in Geyserville, leading to concerns that Dry Creek will seek to leapfrog south over Graton's casino to capture the Bay Area gambling audience.
Petaluma council members were reportedly set to discuss whether to join the group's lawsuit in closed session. After emerging from the session, they made no announcement of any action.
The council has gone on record asking the area's federal representatives to oppose the tribe's request to take the land into trust.
Petaluma attorney Larry King said Petaluma residents are opposed to casinos because of the traffic, public safety and economic problems they suspect will result.
"The best way to stop a possible Dry Creek casino south of Petaluma is to stop a Graton casino in Rohnert Park from opening," he said. "It's not too late to stop the Graton casino."
He noted that four other casinos in the country have been shut down by court decisions, including one in Oklahoma that had been operating for almost 30 years.
"Casinos are not what I want for growth in Sonoma County," resident Michael Kraus told the council. "I believe they will increase crime, increase traffic and decrease an already limited water supply."
Both speakers said the Stop the Casino 101 Coalition's legal argument is sound.
The suit argues that because California never ceded its jurisdiction over the Rohnert Park land to the federal government, taking it into federal trust to allow a casino is illegal.
(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)