Casino site touts benefits

Hollister – Investors from Game Won, the group backing a
proposed Miwok casino near Hollister, have set up a Web site
extolling the benefits Indian gaming has brought to other areas and
listing some of the 2,000 jobs the tribe’s spokesman has promised
locals.
Hollister – Investors from Game Won, the group backing a proposed Miwok casino near Hollister, have set up a Web site extolling the benefits Indian gaming has brought to other areas and listing some of the 2,000 jobs the tribe’s spokesman has promised locals.

The five-member California Valley Miwok tribe has teamed up with the investment group in hopes of building a casino on 200-plus acres off Highway 156 across from the Hollister airport. It was originally proposed for U.S. Highway 101 and Highway 25 and a number of Gilroyans, including Joe Giacalone and Chris Vanni, are investors. The casino could be similar in size to Yolo County’s Cache Creek casino, which is 74,000-plus square feet with 2,300 slot machines.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he will not negotiate gaming compacts with tribes outside of their indigenous areas without overwhelming local support. Since the tribe has not yet proven its ancestral ties to San Benito County, groups like Casinos Represent A Poor Solution and the county board of supervisors have been trying to show the governor a lack of support. Conversely, the tribe’s investors have been trying to drum up support for their cause in the community.

Most notably, the tribe and its investors have seen much support recently from San Benito County residents who say they are desperate for the jobs a casino would bring.

The group’s Web site, www.miwokproject.com, is a highly-polished site with flash video of the artist’s rendering of the resort, drumming noises in the background and images of teepees. The site is still largely under construction except for a listing of employment opportunities and a “Myth vs. Fact” section on Indian gaming.

“To date, the Web site has not been formally released and will not be until it contains more information,” said California Valley Miwok Project Manager Gary Ramos in an e-mail. “The Web site is yet another outlet for elected officials and members of the community to gather information about the project that will be evolving with information as we work with the community and the Hollister City Council to define the project. This is also a resource available to the public to view the proposed destination resort and casino rendering or to e-mail us directly with any questions or comments that will enable a direct response from us.”

Ramos’ e-mail did not refer to the job listings on the site and he couldn’t be reached for comment after the e-mail was received.

Jobs listed run the gamut from cashiers to pastry chefs to human resources managers, bartenders to waiters to engineers. The site doesn’t list wages for any of the positions, but Ramos has said they will be union-wage jobs with benefits.

The “Myth vs. Fact” section of the site highlights several statistics showing benefits to the economies of towns where Indian casinos have been established. Some key statistics include the following statements:

• A 1999 National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences report finding communities closest to casinos experienced a 12-17 percent drop in welfare payments, unemployment rates and unemployment insurance.

• In the four years after legalization of casino gaming in Blackhawk and Central City in Gilpin County, Colo., the number of eating and drinking places increased 30 percent, and the number of employees rose 161 percent.

• At least 12 new businesses, including a number of new restaurants, have opened in Tunica, Mississippi since riverboat gaming came to town

• A 1999 survey conducted by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center concluded that 0.1 percent of the U.S. adult population are current pathological gamblers, and (this) is far lower than drug abuse/dependence (6.2 percent) and alcohol dependence (13.8 percent).

But CRAPS Chairman Steve Merrell refuted many of the site’s claims.

“There are a couple of things that should be borne in mind,” Merrell said. “Any time you see anything from a gaming association, I believe it has to be suspect because it’s not taking a broad enough view of the situation.”

The Miwok Project site attributes its statistics to the United Auburn Indian Community, which is made up of Miwok and Maidu Indians, according to the group’s Web site. Ramos’ e-mail referred questions of the statistics’ origins back to the Auburn Indians’ Web site, www.auburnrancheria.com, and to information packets the investors have handed out at various community meetings.

“You can have a battle of statistics, but if they don’t give sources for their statistics then they have to be held suspect, and if the sources are vested interests in gaming then they have to be held suspect,” Merrell said. “It looks to me like they’re playing games with the statistics and what’s being presented here and using wording that is very misleading.”

Merrell listed several statistics in particular that CRAPS believes to be biased.

“I think (the 12-17 percent drop in welfare) is a great statistic,” he said. “Unfortunately it doesn’t apply to us because they’re based on casinos that are put on impoverished Indian reservations, which is where they’re supposed to go because that’s where they do have benefits. When you look at casinos in communities that are established, you don’t see that at all.”

Merrell also said he doubted the choice of locales used for the studies the tribe’s statistics are based on.

“Other places, like Tunica, are very impoverished,” Merrell countered. “We (CRAPS) have always said that in certain situations, casinos can bring economic development. But those situations are very clear. It’s in highly impoverished, massively impoverished areas. There is no evidence that a developed area like San Benito County and Hollister in particular would benefit from bringing a casino in.”

Another statistic Merrell disagreed with was the finding published on the Miwok Project site concluding only 0.1 percent of the country’s adult population has a pathological gambling problem.

“I’ve never seen a statistic so low on problem gambling,” Merrell said, adding the statistic does not include numbers of adults who are recovered gambling addicts.

Ramos couldn’t be reached for further comment.

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