Casino compact puts North Bay legislators on the spot

Political pressure is building on North Coast lawmakers to reject a gaming compact that would give the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria the right to open a Las Vegas-style casino in Rohnert Park.

The project also has become a hot-button campaign issue, particularly in the race for the newly-created 10th Assembly seat in Marin and Sonoma counties being sought by Assemblyman Michael Allen.

The Petaluma City Council on Monday night voted unanimously to ask North Bay legislators to vote against ratifying the compact, asserting the deal doesn't take into account traffic and water problems the casino-hotel complex could create.

Casino opponents said they will be seeking similar votes of support in coming weeks.

Several lawmakers expressed reservations about the proposed 3,000-slot casino on Tuesday, including Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who said that the "compact should be sent back and it should be rejected."

But Sen. Mark Leno, whose district includes Rohnert Park, said he intends to vote for the deal.

"I'm well aware that this has been controversial over many years, but with the governor having finalized the contract and with the issues that have concerned me being addressed, I'm prepared to support it," Leno said.

State lawmakers are believed to have approved all but one of the gaming compacts that have come before them for ratification. The federal Department of the Interior also must approve the deal.

But lingering concerns about the Rohnert Park casino project's impact on the region as well as possible opposition to the plans on the part of other Indian tribes has cast some doubt on its approval.

"Tribes are powerful political players in California and have been for a decade or two on any issue that might affect their futures," said Howard Dickstein, a Sacramento attorney and an expert in Indian casino politics.

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