County awaits casino opinion

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Tuolumne County officials have two casino tales to tell Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger, and hope one will impact the state's dealings with American Indians.

Schwarzenegger has said he wants to make sure tribes with casinos pay their fair share, and is looking at Connecticut as a model, spokesman H.D. Palmer said this morning.

Connecticut gets 25 percent of the net profits from all slot machines, Palmer said, resulting in more than $380 million a year for the state.

Palmer said Schwarzenegger intends to renegotiate every existing gaming compact in California.

But Tuolumne County Counsel Gregory Oliver said he hopes the governor-elect treats some tribes differently.

"For example, the Tuolumne Band of Indians has been very responsive and a good partner with the county," he said of the tribe that owns the expanding Black Oak Casino near Tuolumne. "I hope they are not penalized for that. I hope the governor looks at each tribe individually."

The county has long had issues, however, with the Chicken Ranch Band of Me-Wuk, which owns a bingo parlor and casino west of Jamestown, and has been far less open about its doings than the Tuolumne tribe.

The Chicken Ranch tribe has not made financial arrangements that benefit the county, Oliver said.

The Tuolumne Me-Wuk and the county have a memorandum of understanding regarding the casino's impact on area roads, fire protection, law enforcement and other services.

The Me-Wuk agreed to pay $1.1 million in the first year of the casino's operation from May 2001 to May 2002 and $640,000 per year after that to compensate for the cost of extra traffic on nearby roads, fire protection, law enforcement and other services.

Another $550,000 will soon go into the road fund now that construction has begun on Phase II of the casino, with its expanded gaming area, restaurants, entertainment lounges, bowling alley and arcade. Once Phase II is open, the annual payments will rise to $750,000, Oliver said, and four years later, the payments will go to $895,000.

The Union Democrat
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