Stakes high in gaming pacts

January 21, 2003 12:00 am

By LENORE

RUTHERFORD

and The Associated Press

It's been three years since tribal-state agreements ushered in casino-style gambling in California.

Two tribal casinos are in Tuolumne County, one is in Amador County.

With key portions of the compact between tribes and the state up for renegotiation, a resolution was to go before Tuolumne County supervisors today asking the state to expand negotiations to include Chicken Ranch Casino near Jamestown.

County Counsel Gregory Oliver said the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk pays $1 million a year — $700,000 to Tuolumne County and $300,000 to Tuolumne Fire Protection District — to mitigate off-site impacts of Black Oak Casino, which opened in May 2001 on North Tuolumne Road near Tuolumne.

The Me-Wuk were obligated by the state agreement to negotiate with the county because they chose to build a Nevada-style casino.

The current state compact doesn't require the same sort of negotiations from casinos that existed before the state agreement unless they make major changes, and Chicken Ranch has not.

Oliver said neighbors of the Chicken Ranch Casino have complained in the last year or so about such issues as traffic, road improvements, sewage disposal and burning plastics and other material.

"We would like to address those concerns," he said, "but under the present law, we can't."

In the meantime, tribes and state officials are gearing up for high-stakes bargaining that could determine the shape of one of the state's fastest-growing and richest industries for years to come.

Kevin Day, chairman of the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk, was not available for comment this morning.

Some tribes are eager to increase the allowed number of slot machines, the cash cows that bring in as much as 95 percent of a casino's revenue. State officials, meanwhile, are desperate for money to close a budget deficit estimated at $34.6 billion, and Gov. Gray Davis is looking to tribes for help.