Tribes, card clubs weighing in on Richmond's Measure U casino measure
By Katherine Tam
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 10/27/2010 04:14:04 PM PDT
Updated: 10/28/2010 05:41:58 PM PDT
It's a war of glossy, attention-grabbing mailers and ads rapidly raising spending to nearly $1 million.
The election battle over building a casino at Richmond's Point Molate is drawing big money from tribes and card clubs around Northern California.
Winehaven Partners LLC and the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians, who would build the casino-hotel resort with financial backing from the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, have raised $500,000 among themselves and spent $491,814 urging Richmond voters to approve Measure U, according to campaign finance reports.
Opponents are pitching in big bucks, as well. Stop the Mega Casino has formed two political action committees, raising at least $224,200 from three card clubs: The Oaks, California Grand and Napa Valley Casino. The opposition has spent at least $143,326.
United Auburn Indian Community, which owns Thunder Valley Casino Resort north of Sacramento, has funneled $150,000 into its No on U campaign. Spokesman Doug Elmets points to state Proposition 1A, saying voters approved it to allow Indian gaming on tribal lands outside urban areas.
"Why should tribal members who played by the rules be forced to pay the price for developers' schemes in urban areas?" Elmets asked. "Many tribes with and without casinos are watching this measure very closely. You see a tribe being hoodwinked by a developer, and a developer trying to hoodwink voters to open the floodgates for gaming in urban areas, which would change the landscape of the state."
The advisory Measure U, which is not legally binding, asks voters whether a casino should be built on the waterfront near the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
Both sides argue the other's mailers are either inaccurate or misleading.
Winehaven didn't expect to spend this much campaigning on Measure U, developer Jim Levine said.
"We're being forced to respond to the inaccuracies," Levine said. "The people on the No on U side really don't care about Richmond. They're not here for the long term. If they win or lose, they're gone."
The outcome could influence state and federal officials in charge of granting approvals; they like to see local support for gaming.
Contra Costa County leaders initially opposed the casino, but changed to cheerleaders after the casino interests promised the county $12 million a year and jobs. Last week, environmental groups OK'd a legal settlement in which Guidiville would provide at least $45 million for shoreline preservation. Both deals are contingent on the casino's construction.
The Richmond City Council still needs to certify the project's environmental report and complete a deal to turn over Point Molate to Guidiville, decisions due after the November election.
Supporters and opponents are aware that the outcome of Richmond's mayoral and council races, and how locals vote on Measure U, will play a major role in what happens next.
Stop the Mega Casino is urging voters to support Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and council candidates Corky Booze, Jovanka Beckles and Eduardo Martinez, all of whom oppose the casino.
The Richmond Progressive Alliance and its slate of candidates -- McLaughlin, Beckles and Martinez -- does not accept corporate contributions, said Mike Parker, editor of the alliance's newsletter. But it cannot stop groups such as Stop the Mega Casino from putting out mailers about its candidates, he said; nor is it asked to approve any of the literature.
The alliance is waging its own No on U campaign, but with far less money. It has spent less than $1,000 printing about 8,000 fliers, which volunteers are distributing by hand, Parker said.
"Most of the pro (casino) literature that comes out doesn't mention the casino or mentions it in small print and tries to sell it as a nice resort, but the community doesn't want the casino," Parker said.
Councilman Nat Bates, a staunch casino supporter, said it is more than just a casino. He points to the hotel rooms, restaurants, shops and access to open space.
"Very few citizens within the community will have had access to the volumes of studies and reports that staff and City Council have had," Bates said. "They're basically voting on the emotional."
Still, "if there's an overwhelming no, we're all going to have to reconsider our positions," he said.