If Proposition 1A to amend the California Constitution in March 2000 had proposed to open up the state to billion-dollar Las Vegas gambling interests with no provision for them to pay taxes on the money they take out of our communities, it probably wouldn't have passed.
But Prop 1A asked us to allow the governor to negotiate compacts with federally recognized tribes to operate slot machines and other games of chance on Indian tribal lands in California. Californians passed that with a 65-percent landslide.
If Proposition 1A had proposed that we allow development of a $433 million casino and resort project on 254 acres of farmland just outside the Rohnert Park city limits, it probably would have caused a bit of a debate in Sonoma County.
But the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria didn't have tribal lands in March of 2000, in Rohnert Park or anywhere else, and they had no announced plans to develop a casino. So Sonoma County voters supported Prop 1A with a 56-percent majority.
Three years after that, when the Graton tribe decided it needed a casino after all and began looking around Sonoma County for some tribal lands on which to put it, a Press Democrat Poll found only 18 percent of county voters still supported Prop 1A.
It has taken another nine years since that poll, but it now appears that we are about to reap the fruits of Prop 1A in central Sonoma County. A mega-sized casino-resort, backed by Las Vegas gambling interests, has gained the go-ahead from Gov. Jerry Brown to proceed on a flat piece of farm land just west of Wal-Mart and Home Depot in The Friendly City.
It is expected to draw gamblers from near and far, with easy access to Highway 101 and the draw of being the biggest/closest casino-resort complex to the greater Bay Area.
The official ballot argument against Prop 1A warned that the measure would result in "214 authorized tribal casinos &#8211; some Las Vegas-sized, some run by Nevada gambling companies &#8211; paying no state or federal taxes on profits."
But who knew then that one of those casinos would be in our backyard, a stone's throw from Highway 101, 40 minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge? Who would have bet that Las Vegas's "neighborhood" gambling company, Station Casinos, would team with the Graton tribe to bring us a project with 534,000 square feet of building space, 3,000 slot machines, 5,500 parking spaces and a 200-room hotel on undeveloped land &#8211; with no approval required from local officials?
In staff writer Jeremy Hay's story about Gov. Brown's signing of the compact, project supporter Connie Codding talked about the benefits that it will bring to the 1,300 members of the Graton tribe (tribal Chairman Greg Sarris, by the way, has refused to discuss the good news with The Press Democrat).
"Let's just hope that this really improves their lives," Codding said. "That's what we're all hoping for, that it will enable their children to get a better education and a better life."
No doubt there will be benefits to tribal members. It has been estimated that each slot machine can generate $300 a day &#8211; enough to provide more than three-quarters of the estimated $400 million in annual revenues projected for this project. The rest, I assume, will come from other table games, the sale of booze and grub, all those hotel rooms and whatever else the tribe decides to include in this modern cash cow.