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Howard Stutz

California senator attempting to halt Indian gaming expansion

3 December 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has proposed changes in federal law that would make it harder for Indian tribes without land to open casinos.

The changes proposed by Feinstein, California's senior senator, would make it tougher for tribes to take new lands into trust.

The change could have implications for just about any tribe that wants to build a casino in an urban area.

According to an article in the Sacramento, Calif.,-based Capitol Weekly, Feinstein's changes would force an Indian tribe to show both a "substantial direct aboriginal connection to the land" and "substantial direct modern one."

Tribes have argued a historical connection to lands they wish to acquire and use for gaming. Showing a current connection to empty urban land may be more difficult.

Capitol Weekly surmised that Feinstein has the backing of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid defeated Republican challenger Sharron Angle with the support of Nevada gaming companies, which have generally opposed increased tribal gaming in California. The state has 65 Indian casinos that produced $7.3 billion in gaming revenues in 2008, according to the Indian Gaming Industry Report by economist Alan Meister.

Feinstein has angered tribal gaming advocates by exploring a move to attach the language to appropriations bills that would be passed in the current lame-duck session of Congress. She has yet to get it into any legislation.

The matter was brought up during a recent roundtable discussion between Indian gaming leaders at the Global Gaming Expo in November.

Michael Derry, the head of the Guidiville Tribe of Pomo Indians, said Feinstein is trying to amend the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the federal law that established the legal framework for tribal gaming.

The tribe has been trying to build an urban casino on a 290-acre waterfront spot, the site of a former Navy refueling station, in Northern California.

"She's attempting to do a backroom deal, hide the ball and sneak in some legislation," Derry told Capitol Weekly. "We are opposed to it. Most of Indian country is opposed to it."

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., has been pushing legislation that would allow a far more liberal approach to allowing tribes to take new land into trust and reportedly has the support of the Obama Administration.