Indian Casino Flounders

Miwok tribe that proposed local casino lost investors and has
internal troubles, says Los Banos mayor
Hollister – Discussions about building a casino in Los Banos are in limbo as the California Valley Miwok Tribe – which failed to gain support for a casino and hotel southeast of Gilroy – grapples with losing its investors and other “internal problems,” according to Los Banos Mayor Michael Amabile.

Amabile also said that the government might be looking into the Miwok’s status as a federally recognized tribe. Preliminary talks between Los Banos and the Miwoks were moving along well until about three months ago when the discussions ended because of problems that arose within the tribe, according to Amabile. Then, last month, the tribe’s financial backers – a Santa Clara County-based group called Game Won – pulled out.

“Their investor group has disengaged from the Miwoks,” Amabile said. “They disengaged because the Miwoks are having some internal problems and possibly their recognition as a tribe is being looked at by the federal government.”

Casino investor Joe Giacolone of Gilroy confirmed that investors had pulled out of the casino project, but declined to say why.

Tribal representatives did not return phone calls Thursday and the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs official assigned to the Miwoks could not be reached for comment on the group’s standing as a federally recognized tribe. Based in Stockton, the landless Miwok tribe has five members – Yakima Dixie, Silvia Burley, Burley’s two daughters and her granddaughter. Dixie has a long criminal history and served time in prison for second-degree murder of a relative.

The tribe first set its sights on Hollister as the home for a casino and a hotel that investors said would bring 2,000 jobs to the area. But in May, after more than a year of opposition from San Benito County supervisors, local law enforcement and many residents, tribal representatives announced they had given up on Hollister and would head east to Los Banos.

The casino issue become a divisive issue among San Benito County residents and officials, sparking several heated community meetings, the formation of anti-casino group Casinos Represent A Poor Solution and strong opposition from Sheriff Curtis Hill. There were casino supporters, however, who said the project would bring much-needed jobs to the city.

Steve Merrell, who was chairman of CRAPS, said he was not surprised to hear about the problems the Miwoks are having.

“I think it’s pretty hopeless from their standpoint. That’s why the investors pulled out,” he said. “From day one this was a suspect group. It was a scam and it is becoming increasingly apparent to the powers that be.”

The casino would have sat on more than 200 acres off Highway 156 near the Hollister Municipal Airport. Investors hoped to eventually add a hotel, restaurants and several entertainment venues to the project, which could have been similar in size to Yolo County’s 66,000-square-foot, 2,000-slot machine Cache Creek casino.

In February, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to send a resolution opposing the casino to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The San Juan Bautista City Council and Hollister Downtown Association quickly followed the board’s decision and passed similar resolutions.

Concerns that a casino was the wrong kind of development for Hollister, and the belief the tribe was “reservation shopping” out of their indigenous area were some of the chief reasons for opposition cited in the resolutions.

Despite the issues facing the Miwoks, Amabile said both Los Banos and the tribe remain open to the possibility of developing a project in that area.

“They sent me a letter saying they still want to be in contact and negotiate with the city of Los Banos, and I responded in a positive manner saying that we look forward to discussing more with them on the casino project,” he said.

Though the city is open to the possibility of a casino it’s up to the tribe to get discussions going again, Amabile said.

“They’re coming to us, we’re not looking for them,” he said. “The way we’re handling things is just looking at the casino as any large business that wants to come into Los Banos. We’re looking at the impacts and if its going to be a benefit to the city or not. Right now we’re pretty neutral on it.”

But, he added, the jobs that a casino would create make the project attractive.

“Yes, when they start talking about 1,500 new jobs its very intriguing to us to think about that coming to our area,” he said.