The federal government has delayed taking into trust the land in Rohnert Park proposed for a $1 billion tribal casino while legal issues are working their way through court.

The U.S. Department of Interior agreed to withhold action pending the appeal by opponents of the proposed casino by the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria.

In a letter to attorneys, federal officials said no decision had been made whether to continue the delay past July 27, or wait until the appeal is decided in federal court.

The issue is whether the opponents, Stop the Casino 101, can challenge the Department of Interior?s ability to take into trust 254 acres of land for the tribe. Trust approval is a key threshold for the tribe in its drive to build a casino. The subsequent key step is to negotiate a gaming compact with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and have it approved by the Legislature.

?We believe the various plaintiffs are adversely impacted in a personal way by the casino proposal,? said Mike Healy, a former Petaluma councilman and a plaintiff. ?The problem is the decision to take the property into trust is the last chance we have to weigh in.?

The tribe is proposing to build a casino with 2,000 slot machines, a 300-room hotel, convention center and theater in west Rohnert Park, which leaders said could cost $1 billion.

It is being financed by Station Casinos of Las Vegas.

Opponents in June 2008 filed a federal suit to stop the government from taking the land into trust, arguing the government could not create a sovereign nation within California without the state?s consent.

Since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not negotiated and the Legislature has not approved a compact with the tribe, opponents contend the state has not given its permission.

The suit was thrown out in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by Judge Susan Illston, who in April ruled the opponents lacked standing to file the suit.

The opponents have appealed that decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, and opening arguments are set for Oct. 9, said attorney Elliot Bien of Novato.

Bien said the government had initially indicated it would withhold taking the land into trust pending the outcome of the appeal, and would let the plaintiffs know if it changed its mind after meeting with tribal attorneys on June 26.

Federal authorities have not announced whether a decision was reached after the June 26 meeting.

Greg Sarris, the Graton Rancheria tribal chairman, in a written statement said the tribe does not comment on litigation. The tribe, however, is not a party to the federal lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the tribe is continuing its financial support of Rohnert Park?s special enforcement unit in the public safety department, making a final $125,000 payment two weeks ago, bringing the total for the 2009-2010 fiscal year of $500,000.

Public Safety Director Brian Masterson said the tribe has also pledged to give $500,000 for this year.