A bill by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein could pose a problem for Enterprise Rancheria as the tribe nears the end of its quest to open a Yuba County casino.
The bill, co-authored by U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, would clarify standards for a tribe wanting to build a casino project outside areas considered its traditional ancestral area.
Though based in Oroville, tribal members of Enterprise Rancheria, also known as the Estom Yumeka Maidu, have said Yuba County was also part of the lands where their ancestors roamed.
Tribal chairwoman Glenda Nelson (OP: HALL OF SHAME MEMBER) said she thought there was a low possibility of Feinstein's bill affecting the casino's viability, because her tribe's connection to the region is solid.
"Sometimes these bills have different effects," Nelson said, adding the two-step process her tribe is going through, requiring approval from both state and federal authorities, could differentiate Enterprise Rancheria from the kinds of projects Feinstein's bill is aimed at.
Nelson also pointed out the tribe maintains an office in Marysville and partners with other tribes on a health clinic for tribal members in Yuba City.
The proposal for the Enterprise Rancheria hotel and casino, near Sleep Train Amphitheatre on Forty Mile Road, is with the federal Office of Indian Gaming for a final decision on whether the tribe could take the land into trust.
Feinstein's bill, S. 771, the Tribal Gaming Eligibility Act, would allow tribes to open casinos on land taken into trust only if the tribe could demonstrate a substantial modern and aboriginal or ancestral connection to the land.
"The fact is that some tribes have abused their unique right to operate casinos and have ignored the intent of Congress by taking land into trust miles away from their historical lands," Feinstein, D-California, said in a statement announcing the legislation last month. "This is done simply to produce the most profitable casino and the greatest number of potential gamblers, often with little regard to the local communities."
Mooretown Rancheria, an Oroville-based tribe that operates Feather Falls Casino near Oroville, sent Feinstein's office a letter supporting the bill.
"We have a unique perspective on this issue because out-of-state investors have come to our area seeking to move tribes from their aboriginal and historic areas in an effort to develop casino projects in areas closer to population centers," says the April 27 letter signed by Mooretown Rancheria chairman Gary Archuleta.
Archuleta has opposed Enterprise Rancheria's plans, describing them as "reservation shopping," a term also used by Feinstein in her announcement of the legislation.
The press release specifically mentioned California, which has 58 Indian casinos operating, as ground zero for such issues. The bill was introduced and referred to the Committee on Indian Affairs.
Feinstein also made reference to a 2006 study showing increased crime and addiction problems in California cities where a casino opened nearby, as well as a strain on local government budgets.
In 2005, Yuba County residents opposed the casino with 52.1 percent in an advisory ballot measure. Yuba County supervisors in 2002 approved a memorandum of understanding with the tribe to cover impacts if the casino is built.
Nelson said she's not sure when the federal government will give final word on taking land into trust, adding only five tribes have completed the two-step process since 1988, when the federal bill allowing Indian casinos was passed.
"If we didn't think we'd be successful, we wouldn't still be going through it," Nelson said. "We are in our area."