Yurok approved to open casino

June 29, 2007 11:00 pm
The Yurok tribe will be able to open a casino under a compact approved by the State Legislature Thursday. The casino will be limited to slot machines, however, and not contain table games like the Elk Valley casino (left). (Triplicate file photo).
The Yurok tribe will be able to open a casino under a compact approved by the State Legislature Thursday. The casino will be limited to slot machines, however, and not contain table games like the Elk Valley casino (left). (Triplicate file photo).

By Thea Skinner

Triplicate staff writer

The odds were in the Yurok Tribe's favor Thursday, as the state Assembly ratified the tribe's gaming-compact that will bring a new casino to Klamath on the reservation.

The move allows the 5,100-member local Yurok Tribe, the largest in the state, to generate needed revenue and contributes to the state's general fund.

The Assembly was in caucus all morning and afternoon before ratifying Senate Bill 106.

"I was quite emotional when it finally happened. I had a tear or two," said Bonnie Green, vice chair of the Yurok Tribal Council.

The passing of the bill, which also allows other tribes to increase their number of slot machines, represents the largest expansion of American Indian gambling of any tribe in the state.

"Securing a game and compact with the state of California is a monumental and significant step forward for the Yurok Tribe," Green said. "This will enable the tribe to provide, we hope, employment opportunities for tribal members and provide the basis for a broader economic strategy."

Moving forward

The tribe is excited about the compact, she said, but unsure how the facilities will materialize.

"We are going to be looking at a lot of different ways to increase economic development," Green said. "Now we can actually move forward. The planning part was on hold until we got the compact."

Since 1999, the Yurok Tribe has tried to obtain the compact.

"Not getting caught up in everybody's political issues was a big part of it and getting people to understand the needs of the community," Green said. "This is just one component of the vision we have for economic development,"

With approximately 3,000 acres of land in trust, the tribe will continue to receive $1.1 million annual payments from the Indian Gaming Revenue Sharing Trust Fund.

The annual allotment is used for such items as costs associated with a family member passing away, Green said.

The bill allows for 99 slot machines, said Sabrina Lockhart, chief deputy press secretary in the Office of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Up to 20 slot machines will be installed in Pey-Mey fuel mart. The casino will tentatively be constructed next to Pay-Mey.

Since the tribe is operating under 350 gaming devices, they are eligible for revenue payments from gaming tribes under the 1999 compacts.

Creating a destination

The compact also stipulates that the tribe prepare an environmental impact report of new and expanded gaming facilities; meet or exceed building and safety codes of the county and the city where new construction will occur; and resolve disputes with employees, visitors and surrounding communities with a settlement.

"Any new business in that area will help everyone," said Rich Mossholder owner of Klamath River Jetboat Tours. "One of the more important things we will need there is a first class hotel to make it a destination spot."

Mossholder studies the habits of tour busses traveling through Klamath on U.S. Hwy. 101, where his business is.

"The tour buses that come through Klamath go to Gold Beach, Ore. They have facilities to support the people," he said. "If the casino is going to be successful they will need to bring in about 200 people on buses. We have a hard time getting them to stop."

Mossholder's business has been catering to tourists in Klamath for 20 years.

"There are more than 500 companies with tour buses that go by us in one month," Mossholder said. "We cut our tours down, because we do not have the people that can stay long. They are passers-by."

Wayne Schell, president of California Association for Local Development, has visited Del Norte County to provide consultation for about four years.

"I think it (a casino) needs to be done within the context of the community," he said. "Tribes did not know how to do this in previous times."

He said that tribes in Lake County were not invited to community initiatives, because they did not have resources in past years.

"In your area it seems that engagement has occurred," he said. "I was very impressed with your tribal leaders. They are sharp."

The tribe council plans to continue its vision for economic prosperity, Green said.

"From this point we have a significant amount of planning to do for us to develop the necessary infrastructure to build and open a facility," she said. "We look forward to the eventful benefits our operation will have for tribal members and our communities."

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