Signal Support for Casino Plan
By Howard Stutz - Our Partner at Las Vegas
Tribal casinos in Barstow, Calif., have taken another
step toward gaining a footing about 120 miles west of the Nevada
the high desert community last week rejected a referendum that
would have stopped two Indian tribes from building side-by-side
casinos in Barstow, near the city's well-visited outlet malls
off Interstate 15.
which have signed agreements with California's governor and
are going through additional state and federal OKs, could start
building their twin casinos by late 2007 or early 2008 if all
of the approvals are met.
about six months into the 18-month process with the (U.S.) Department
of Interior," said Tom Shields, a spokesman for BarWest,
a Michigan-based company that would manage the casinos.
government needs to approve the land for use as an Indian-owned
casino. Also, both houses of the California Legislature need
to approve the compacts with the state.
rejection of Measure H by Barstow residents by an 81 percent
to 19 percent vote was an initial step in showing support for
bringing casino gaming to San Bernardino County's high desert.
a third tribe that is lobbying for its own casino site, Measure
H would have killed the proposed casino site off Lenwood Road
next to the Factory Merchants at Barstow outlet center.
the vote showed was that Barstow residents clearly want the
project and the economic benefit it would bring to the community,"
Shields said. "We think this vote sends a message to lawmakers
In a statement,
Barstow Mayor Lawrence Dale said defeating the anti-casino measure
will influence California lawmakers, who are scheduled to discuss
the tribal agreements this summer.
comes at a perfect time as the Legislature is prepared to take
up the compacts," Dale said. "Our community's support
is no longer in question."
plan unveiled last year, two tribes -- the Los Coyotes Band
of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians from San Diego County and the
Big Lagoon Rancheria Band of Humboldt County -- would build
twin casinos on 47 acres near Barstow's outlet malls.
signed compacts with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in September
that would allow the state to collect one quarter of the profits
earned by the casinos. The tribes would be allowed to have up
to 2,250 slot machines each with table games.
officials said the twin casinos are expected to provide 3,700
jobs and add at least $175 million annually to the local economy.
$160 million joint venture is controversial because it would
give two Indian tribes without any ties to the Barstow area
land for a casino.
which has been dubbed "reservation shopping" by critics,
has happened throughout the United States because it allows
Indian tribes without land the same opportunities for economic
development as tribes with large reservations.
said that the San Diego tribe has land in far northeastern San
Diego County that cannot be developed and that reservation land
controlled by Big Lagoon has environmental protections.
tribe, the Chemehuevi, which has historic ties to Barstow, is
seeking to put a casino east of the proposed Los Coyotes/Big
Lagoon site. The tribe and its backers sought passage of Measure
Coyotes/Big Lagoon venture is viewed as having strong financial
includes Marian Ilitch, who operates the MotorCity Casino in
Detroit. Her family also owns several Detroit-based businesses,
including Little Caesars Enterprises, baseball's Detroit Tigers
and hockey's Detroit Red Wings.
city leaders have viewed the casino project as a way to tap
into gaming dollars that might be headed to the three MGM Mirage-run
casinos in Primm, which bumps the state line. Through April,
an average of 38,000 vehicles a day passed through Barstow on
the way to Las Vegas.
a Mojave Desert city of 23,575, has been considered a rest stop
for drivers traveling between Southern California and Las Vegas.
The city's current general fund budget is $10.5 million.
have given little credence that a casino in Barstow would cut
into Las Vegas visitation.
is always going to be some marginal competition, but I don't
think it is any real thing unless gas prices were to become
a major issue and consumers become more concerned," CRT
Capital Group gaming analyst Steve Ruggiero said of Barstow
becoming a casino community.
spokesman Alan Feldman, whose Primm casinos rely on drive-in
traffic from Southern California, said casinos in Barstow would
have little, if any, effect on Las Vegas.
are 40 or so casinos before someone ever gets to Barstow,"
Feldman said. "(A casino in Barstow) would be competition
to Primm, but it's just a drop in the bucket compared to what's
happening in Southern California."
52 Indian casinos generated almost $6 billion in gaming revenues
in 2004. In San Diego, nine tribal casinos operate almost 13,000
the competition, Las Vegas gaming revenues have grown considerably.
Last year, Strip casinos won more than $6 billion from customers,
a better than 13 percent increase.
issue of reservation shopping is a far more larger and more
serious issue," Feldman said.
think there is a policy issue that needs to be straightened
out when a tribe with no land travels hundreds of miles away
to the Barstow area. I don't know if this is what the (Indian
Gaming Regulatory Act) was written for."