1/20/2008: A1: Casinos Of Today: RIVER ROCK: Today, the nine current North Coast casinos combined have 4,636 slot machines, including 1,600 at River Rock Casino near Geyserville. Many tribes are planning new casinos or large expansions. 7/9/2006: C1: PLAYING FOR A SEAT IN LAS VEGAS: Clockwise from the left of dealer Jerry Navarro, middle, Leo Gonzalez, Richard Deneau, Brian Halton, Gabriel Froymovich, Siek Sok, Duane Harrell, Brian Gallagher, Isabel Oandason, Harley Garner and Aaron Knight compete Saturday at River Rock Casino in Geyserville for a seat in the World Series of Poker. PC: sports lede/--1 of 4--From the left of River Rock Casino dealer Jerry Navarro, middle, clockwise, Leo Gonzalez, Richard Deneau, Brian Halton, Gabriel Froymovich, Siek Sok, Duane Harrell, Brian Gallagher, Isabel Oandason, Harley Garner and Aaron Knight, compete for a seat in the World Series of Poker, Saturday July 8, 2006 at River Rock Casino in Healdsburg. (CQ'd) Gonzalez won the game and received a free trip to play in the series. Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2006

Tribal land issue deserved the light of public debate

There is no quick resolution to the complex issues surrounding tribal sovereignty and the potentially significant impacts of Indian gaming on local communities. Sonoma County knows this better than most areas.

Nevertheless, the House tried to push a quick fix through this week - in underhanded fashion.

Rather than allowing the merits of the so-called "Carcieri fix" to be debated out in the open, the House agreed to tuck it - hide it might be the more fitting term - inside an omnibus appropriations bill passed on Wednesday.

This way, given that the bill contained everything from $159 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to funding for the new START treaty to a new food safety law, House members could be found blameless in their support or opposition on any single item.

The bill passed on a vote of 212-206 with both Reps. Lynn Woolsey and Mike Thompson voting yes. During debate on an earlier motion, however, some House members urged that the "fix" be removed and voted on separately. That motion essentially failed on a vote of 207-206 with Thompson voting with those who wanted to separate the measures and Woolsey voting to keep the package as is.

This was the vote that prompted Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane to criticize Woolsey for potentially making the county more vulnerable to gaming. Her frustration, and that of other county officials, is justifiable.

In fact, the Carcieri fix is no fix at all. The purpose is to reverse a U.S. Supreme Court decision - Carcieri vs. Salazar - that essentially stripped the Interior Department of authority to take land into trust from tribes that were recognized after 1934. This left the nation with an unreasonable standard that was unfair to many landless tribes. Some resolution was needed.

But the solution approved by the House this week was to give all authority to the Interior Department, requiring essentially no involvement or even input from local jurisdictions.

This was exactly what officials from Sonoma County and a number of other counties throughout the state and nation had been urging members of Congress for months not to do, with good reason. Not only would it erode the limited input that local jurisdictions have on such projects, it could encourage reservation shopping. This is the practice of landless tribes buying property not in their traditional tribal areas and having it taken into trust, many times for the purpose of building a casino.

Sonoma County Counsel Steven Woodside, who testified before a congressional committee last year on this subject, said this "fix" would give Interior Department officials "incredible authority."

"There are no standards" for working with local governments on impacts, he says. "No conditions. There is no requirement for any public process other a very bare minimum last-minute notice."

Now, the public will have to wait and hope for open debate in the Senate and possibly a better fix. Thankfully Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a vocal opponent of reservation shopping, appears determined to have just such an open discussion.

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