Casinos - not what we need now

Three members of the Sparks City Council set a good example for Carson City supervisors last week when they prevailed on a 3-2 vote to establish a 10-month moratorium on unrestricted gaming licenses (casinos) without hotels in the greater Sparks area. This is exactly what I urged our supervisors to do several weeks ago in order to study the effects, positive and negative, of the uncontrolled spread of casino gambling in what the Appeal calls Carson Country.

Although none of our local leaders has taken a position on my modest proposal, I'm going to continue writing about it until they respond. Are you listening Mayor Ray and ex-Mayor Marv? We should put all of our candidates on the record on the gaming issue before we go to the polls in November. They'll try to run away from it, but we'll hold their feet to the fire until they take a stand.

As casinos continue to proliferate in the capital city area so do those sleazy check-cashing services - the ones that charge usurious interest rates to unsuspecting borrowers who sign over car titles and God knows what else to these "services" in order to obtain "instant cash." And let's face it, many of these folks have a gambling problem, although no one wants to talk about it.

What triggered my renewed interest in a gaming moratorium in Carson and vicinity were the announcements of two new projects: a Washoe tribal casino in the commercial sprawl south of town and yet another slot emporium to replace the shuttered Cheers restaurant in the Carson City industrial area. Still lurking in the background is Max Baer Jr.'s dubious proposal for a hillbilly casino featuring pregnant brides and exploding toilets on the old Wal-Mart property at Southgate Center. And presumably, the remodeled Ormsby House hotel-casino will reopen at some point during this century.

As I've pointed out many times, Indian casinos don't play by the same rules as everyone else and fall far short of Nevada's strict licensing standards. That's why I've repeatedly urged Attorney General Brian Sandoval, a former Gaming Commission chairman, and the state's gaming control agencies to force our licensees to choose between their Nevada operations and Indian casinos that compete directly with struggling Northern Nevada casinos. Exhibit "A" is Station Casinos of Las Vegas, which earned nearly $20 million last year for operating the Thunder Valley tribal casino on Interstate 80 east of Sacramento.

And now the Nevada-based Holder Hospitality Group proposes to open a new 15,000-square-foot casino on Washoe Tribe land at Indian Hills in Douglas County just south of town. The inept National Indian Gaming Commission - which has fewer than 100 enforcement agents to regulate hundreds of tribal casinos throughout the country - could approve the project within 60 days. If and when it opens, Holder's mostly unregulated casino will constitute unfair competition for existing casinos and contribute relatively little to the local economy.

To understand how Indian casinos operate we need look no further than to our large and all-pervasive neighbor to the west, California. Last fall, gaming tribes constituted the largest special interest group in that state's gubernatorial recall election as gaming tribes virtually financed Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante's failed campaign for governor. Fortunately for us, he lost to actor-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is negotiating with the tribes to receive more revenue from their casinos in exchange for the right to obtain more slot machines. Meanwhile, the tribes will spend millions of dollars to oppose an initiative petition that would break their monopoly on Nevada-style casinos in California.

The controversial initiative, which will appear on the November ballot, would require tribal casinos to pay 25 percent of their gambling profits - more than $1 billion per year - to state and local governments. And if any single tribe refuses to abide by this requirement, 11 California card rooms and five racetracks would be authorized to operate a total of 30,000 additional slot machines, more bad news for Nevada.

In March, representatives from 10 California communities asked Gov. Schwarzenegger to require gaming tribes to compensate them for casino impacts on traffic, crime and the environment. But the tribes are attempting to use their increasing political clout - resulting from huge campaign contributions - to bypass local opposition to casinos. For example, when the Butte Tribe wanted to override local authorities in order to open a casino on a former cow pasture 40 miles east of San Diego, it turned to retiring U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R.-Colo., a Native American, for assistance.

According to the Associated Press, Sen. Campbell inserted three obscure sentences into a "technical corrections" bill to designate the Buttes' casino site as tribal land "without mentioning the tribe's name, its location or even the word 'gambling.'" This was just one of three recent instances in which California gaming tribes sought to expand the boundaries of their reservations and bypass local opposition by seeking help from Congress. Critics charged the tribes with attempting end-runs around state and local governments, leaving affected communities with little say over their own affairs.

Is that the kind of gaming operation we want on our southern doorstep? I don't think so. And that's why I urge elected officials in Carson Country to suspend action on new casino applications until all potential impacts - positive and negative - can be thoroughly studied. The proliferation of gambling is a quality of life issue in our community and the voters deserve no less from their elected representatives.

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, worked for the Nevada Gaming Commission and Gaming Control Board in the mid-1960s.


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