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Richmond Council Eyes Casino Consultant
January 14, 2003

Officials could hire someone to advise them on an Indian tribe's bid for a Port Richmond site
 


 

CONTRA COSTA TIMES

Whipsawed between promises of money and jobs and public opposition to a Port Richmond casino, the City Council may choose tonight to hire a consultant at a cost of perhaps more than $100,000 to help make the critical decision.

The Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians, which originates in Lakeport, has offered $10 million for the port's Terminal 3 and adjacent properties, plus "impact fees" ranging from $3 million to $5 million a year for the first 16 years of operation.

"The way we do business in Richmond is, if we get a bid to build, say, a hotel, we have someone on staff that understands hotels to study it and make a recommendation," said Councilman Richard Griffin, one of four members appointed to examine the proposal.

"We don't have any staff on board who knows anything about casinos. We've got to hire someone to tell us what to do."

The job would be twofold:

 First, the consultant would decide whether to go forward with negotiations; that could take more than six months at a cost of up to $100,000 to the general fund.

 Second, the consultant would broker the deal if the project receives a green light from the council. No cost estimate was provided for the second mission.

The project has been pitched as "an adult entertainment and gaming enterprise," and would include one or more casinos, one or more hotels, and several restaurants.

Tribal representatives, Cushman and Wakefield broker John Troughton and a Las Vegas investment group approached city officials in September about possible sites for a hotel/casino.

In November, the tribe bid on port Terminal 3 and portions of South Harbour Way, Hall Avenue, Marina Way and Marina Center.

City Manager Isiah Turner said it is unlikely the contract will climb to $100,000.

"It could be $10,000, and it could be $30,000," he said. "We know it's not inexpensive. But first I want to see who's out there who's qualified to help us. That will be a barometer. And anything we spend we'll try to recoup" from the tribe.

But Vice Mayor Tom Butt said the city is throwing its money away because numerous studies already answer many basic questions. For $10,000, the city could poll residents as to whether they even want a casino, he said.

"If the electorate is against casino gambling, the City Council would continue this pursuit at its own peril," Butt said. "I have gotten about 30 e-mails and 30 phone calls on this, and they continue to come in. All are against the project."

One study, commissioned by the American Planning Association with assistance from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, looked at who wins and loses when a casino comes to town.

More than half the casino's customers must come from outside the area or the venture will prove a net economic drain on the community. Businesses that directly serve casinos can profit handsomely, it notes.

Casino-controlled lodging, eating and entertainment compete with local businesses, not benefit them, as casino advocates sometimes claim.

About 20 people blasted the casino proposal at a council meeting last month.

Kathy Fairbanks of Sacramento-based Citizens Against Casino Expansion, local residents and community leaders said urban casinos violate the intent of a 2000 law that gave Indian tribes the right to launch gaming enterprises on reservations.

Since that law was passed, tribes without land have moved to acquire urban lands for the development of casinos.

But Griffin said critics are jumping the gun.

"Because we hire a consultant, it does not mean we'll have a casino," he said. "If we choose to go that way, we'll have public hearings, we will likely go to the voters and do everything else involved in a public process.

"We're hiring a consultant because we just don't know that much about casinos."

IF YOU GO:

Who: Richmond City Council

What: Consider hiring a consultant to study a local casino proposal

When: 7 tonight

Where: Council chamber at City Hall, 2600 Barrett Ave.

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