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Tribe May Consider L.A.-Area Casino

August 26, 2004|Louis Sahagun | Times Staff Writer

A faction of the landless Gabrielino-Tongva tribe that had insisted in court that it had no desire to build a Las Vegas-style casino in the Los Angeles area announced a change of heart Wednesday.

The possibility of a casino in the Los Angeles region came up as two factions of the tribe squared off in Los Angeles Superior Court over a membership dispute. Essentially, one faction wanted to build a casino against the wishes of another faction led by tribal Chairman Anthony Morales, who said he had no interest in gambling.

On Wednesday, five days after prevailing in state appellate court, Morales changed his mind. "We are open to entertain any economic opportunities to help our people," he said.

Morales' lawyer, Jack Schwartz, was more blunt: "The tribe is legally allowed to receive recognition through Congress, which would allow it to have a reservation in the Los Angeles County area and to eventually negotiate ... for a casino."

Added Schwartz: "My impression is that a casino in Los Angeles County would probably be the most lucrative in the world by virtue of its location."

The legal battle concerned tribal membership, but the subtext was federal recognition of the tribe. If such recognition is obtained, the tribe could attempt to lay claim to ancestral lands in Los Angeles County.

The plaintiff's attorney, Jonathan Stein, who sued Morales' faction, in part, to gain control of historical documents that could help it obtain federal recognition, was not impressed.

"We wish Mr. Schwartz the best of luck," he said sarcastically. "And we hope he learns to operate a slot machine."

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