Letter Imperfect

County Drafts Chumash Gaming Message

by Martha Sadler

Joni_Gray_.jpgAmid a flurry of concern from Santa Ynez
Valley residents living near the Chumash Casino, the Board of
Supervisors tentatively approved a letter to Governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger requesting a role for the board in future gaming
negotiations between the tribe and the state. Two groups opposed to
the casino’s expansion — Preservation of Santa Ynez (POSY) and
Preservation of Los Olivos (POLO) — recently became alarmed when a
group of five California tribes sought state approval for an
additional 5,000 slot machines. POLO and POSY fear the granting of
that request would mean another 5,000 slots in Santa Ynez, because
privileges granted to one gaming tribe are automatically extended
to the others in the state.

The hearing on February 27 was the third time the board has
discussed the matter, with many of the same anti-expansion
activists reiterating sentiments expressed in the previous
meetings. The speakers noted that some states require tribes to pay
a certain amount into a fund to combat gambling addiction. They
also called for a comprehensive county study of gambling’s effect
on crime rates, as well as the casino’s impacts on traffic and the
environment. Speakers also expressed outrage that the tribe is not
subject to the same regulatory oversight as other developers.

Santa Ynez Chumash tribal administrator Sam Cohen conveyed
Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta’s regrets that he could not appear
at the hearing, along with three questions: If the supervisors were
swayed by the fact that the majority of speakers — by a 17-3
margin — opposed expansion, did that mean that Armenta should show
up next time with 1,500 casino employees? Secondly, Cohen asked why
supervisors would want to contact the governor without first
accepting the Chumash tribe’s longstanding and oft-repeated offer
of direct negotiations. Third, Cohen asked that critics read up on
the law that POSY and POLO interpret as potentially granting
permission for 5,000 additional machines at the Chumash Casino, as
that section of federal law grants similar rights only to tribes in
similar circumstances. Furthermore, Cohen explained, the law
requires the tribe to accept the compact in its entirety, including
any additional stipulations — money going back to the county or
environmental impacts, for example. County Counsel Shane Stark
responded that the law’s implications were not yet clear to

When Supervisor Brooks Firestone — representing the 3rd
District, which includes Santa Ynez — made a motion to send off a
strongly worded letter to the governor that very day expressing the
activists’ objections to expansion, no other supervisor seconded
the idea. “In my community, people love the casino,” said Joni
Gray, whose district includes the cities of Lompoc, Orcutt, and
Guadalupe. “Casino work is a high-paying job in the 4th District.”
Gray also said, however, that she wishes the casino were in a
location that did not add traffic to treacherous Highway 154.
Though she explained that she voted against the legalization of
gambling when it first came before the voters, she also told the
Santa Ynez Valley activists that not all of the impacts are
negative. Fifth District Supervisor Joe Centeno said the casino
provides free transportation to and from work, decent pay, and
benefits to the people of Santa Maria and others in his district.
He pleaded with Santa Ynez Valley residents to support direct
negotiations with the tribe, comparing the situation to the need
for diplomatic solutions to problems in the Middle East.

Ultimately, the supervisors voted to begin a study of the
casino’s impacts and to send a letter to the governor expressing
the Santa Ynez Valley activists’ concerns about expansion and
asking for a role in negotiations. It will be sent, however,
pending a consultation with Armenta, who will be offered the option
of calling for a fourth hearing on the subject.


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