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Legislature fast-tracks Rohnert Park casino deal

The agreement to allow the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria to open a 3,000-slot machine casino on the northwest edge of Rohnert Park gets its first hearing at the state Legislature Tuesday, much sooner than many observers expected.

The Senate Governmental Organization committee will take public testimony and hear analysis of the tribe's written agreement with the state — called a compact — that Gov. Jerry Brown signed March 27. The committee will not vote on the compact.

Officials with Station Casinos, the Las Vegas company bankrolling the casino, said Friday that they and tribal representatives will attend the hearing.

The 274-page compact, which the Legislature and the federal Department of the Interior must ratify, outlines the conditions under which the tribe may operate the casino and steps it must take before starting the project. Those include finalizing agreements with the county and Rohnert Park about how the tribe will financially address casino impacts.

When Brown signed the compact March 30, most observers said it would take months before the process reached the point where the Legislature would vote. Now, the talk in Sacramento is that a vote could take place as soon as next week.

"I think it's moving shockingly fast," said state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa. "There are still a number of issues I would like to see worked out locally before I support it."

The development surprised and angered casino opponents who said they wanted more time to marshal their forces to convince legislators to reject or, at least, amend the compact.

"How do you politically organize if people don't know about it," said Chip Worthington, a Rohnert Park pastor who has fought the casino plan for nearly a decade.

"It's legal but it's totally unethical," he said of the speed and method of the Legislature's process.

The senate committee hearing is called an "informational" hearing. A similar hearing will be held by the counterpart Assembly committee. It would then go to each body for a floor vote, needing two-thirds majorities to pass.

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