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Hesperia OKs Casino Run by Distant Tribe

August 27, 2003|Louis Sahagun

HESPERIA — The City Council approved a municipal services agreement Tuesday with a distant Indian tribe that wants to build a Las Vegas-style casino in the High Desert community.

After a marathon meeting that ended past midnight Tuesday, the City Council approved 3 to 2 the deal with the Timbisha Shoshone of Death Valley, who want to construct a 100,000-square-foot casino and a 300-room hotel near Main Street and Interstate 15.

Casino supporters, led by Mayor Dennis Nowicki, believe that the project will generate about $140 million and 1,000 jobs for Hesperia over two decades.

The Timbisha Shoshone, who are based more than 100 miles away, still need approval from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to take the 57-acre parcel in question into trust as sovereign territory. They also need signatures from the governor of California and the U.S. secretary of the Interior.

Gov. Gray Davis has said he opposes off-reservation casinos in urban areas on grounds that local governments -- confronted with problems of crime, congestion and strains on basic services that gambling centers might bring with them -- are powerless to force tribes to remedy the situations.

Nonetheless, Nowicki, who announced the casino proposal only four weeks ago, said, "I think we'll break ground on this project this time next year."

City Councilwoman Rita Vogler, who voted against the casino accord, disagreed.

"It's far from a done deal," she said. "There is opposition, and it is going to grow.

"This casino would have a major impact on the entire High Desert area," she said. "It would also change the political landscape with its high dollars."

The Timbisha Shoshone are one of at least 26 tribes seeking to build off-reservation casinos closer than ever to large urban centers, or busy freeway systems, throughout the state.

An estimated 60 million people drive through Hesperia each year, many going to or from Las Vegas.

Economically ailing Barstow recently approved a memorandum to allow the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians and their Detroit financial backers to build a casino resort near I-15. But Barstow and Hesperia church leaders are organizing efforts to stop the projects.

Also Tuesday, Monterey Park City Councilwoman Betty Chu said she is drafting a resolution to block an off-reservation casino from being built on a toxic former dump. A faction of the landless Gabrielino-Tongva tribe would like to open a casino in Los Angeles County.

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