For nearly a decade, Connecticut gaming revenue has declined. Competition from other forms of entertainment and the effects of the recession are among the reasons often cited for this trend.
But it’s a third factor that has driven efforts to build a third casino, this time in the Hartford area.
“The gaming revenues have declined over the last nine years, in part because of new competition coming on from neighboring states,” said Colin Mansfield, associate director at Fitch Ratings.
With the anticipated 2018 opening of an MGM casino in nearby Springfield, Mass., the tribes that operate the state’s casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, have warned the new venture could cause Connecticut to lose $702 million in revenue, up to $100 million in annual tax receipts and 9,300 direct and indirect gaming jobs.
“Convenience and drive time are important factors in interstate gaming,” Mansfield said. He said when a casino opened in New York City, near John F. Kennedy Airport, several years ago, it affected local revenue as people in southern Connecticut gravitated south.
In the same way, a casino in Massachusetts could draw in people from the northern part of the state. “Since convenience is such an important factor, it may be attractive to residents of northern Connecticut,” Mansfield said.
Because of this, he said it makes sense that locations in the Greater Hartford area are being considered for a third casino. “That’s just strategic in a sense that it could help keep residents from going across the border,” he said.
Last year, the Mohegan Tribe and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation together received state approval to build a new casino along Interstate 91.
“They employ thousands of people directly and support small businesses throughout the state,” said Andrew Doba, a spokesman for the two tribes. “Given the state’s fiscal outlook, these jobs and the revenue these two facilities send to the state are more important now than ever.”
MGM is now suing the state, claiming that the law that allowed the joint venture between the tribes on non-tribal land is unconstitutional.
The Schaghticoke Indian tribe, backed by MGM, has also filed a lawsuit claiming the law is unconstitutional because it excludes other possible casino operators from bidding on a facility.
“We have believed for some time that Connecticut is an attractive marketplace, and we continue to think that,” said Alan Feldman, executive vice president of MGM Resorts International. “We’d like the opportunity to compete.”
He added he believed the state should conduct a thorough review of where a third casino should be located.
“If the state believes a third casino — its first commercial casino — can benefit the state economically, why is that discussion being limited to north central Connecticut?” Feldman said. “If maximizing job creation and revenue is the goal, why not take a step back and look at the entire state to see where a third casino might best be able to flourish?”
Mansfield noted Fitch analysts have a cautious view on regional gaming because other avenues of entertainment, like social gaming and the lottery, are growing in popularity.
“Those segments are seeing healthy growth rates, and they’re alternative forms of gambling,” Mansfield said.
“There are so many more forms of entertainment today than there were 30, 40 or 50 years ago,” added Alex Bumazhny, senior director at Fitch Ratings.
He said the number of slot machines across the country has declined over the years due to less interest in that form of gambling.
“Historically, the baby boomers and Generation X have gambled considerably more,” Bumazhny said, noting that these generations have more free time and more disposable income.
According to a study released in 2014 by the American Gaming Association, the gaming industry contributes $240 billion to the U.S. economy, including revenues of more than $81 billion from casinos.
The study, conducted by Oxford Economics, also found that gaming directly employs approximately 734,000 U.S. workers and generates nearly $17.3 billion in federal taxes, about $11 billion in state and local taxes and nearly $10 billion in state and local gaming taxes.
Connecticut’s gaming revenue has steadily declined over the last decade, but recently state gaming revenues appear to be stabilizing, and have remained more or less flat over the last 12 months, Mansfield said.
Bumazhny attributed this to several factors, including lower gas prices and a milder winter. “People tend to drive less to casinos when the weather is bad,” he noted. The lower gas prices, meanwhile, helped boost discretionary income for many people.
He also noted that no new casinos have been built in the area. “You haven’t had a ton of new supply coming in recently,” Bumazhny said.
EL CAJON — A jail inmate serving a sentence for a drug-related conviction testified Thursday that a Poway man accused of setting several brush fires in 2014 and 2015 bragged about his crimes and said he had hoped to burn down Indian casinos.
The 54-year-old inmate, Richard Culver, took the stand during the El Cajon Superior Court trial of Jonathan Cohen, saying he and Cohen have known each other for several years — linked mostly by their mutual drug use. He said when he was taken into custody last summer he was by chance placed in the same jail module as Cohen.
“He was laughing about (the arson case),” Culver said. “He said Cal Fire was stupid and they would never get enough evidence against him.”
The inmate said Cohen told him he “wanted to torch” all the gambling businesses because despite a good income he earned as a boat mechanic “he spent every penny at the casinos.”
He said Cohen told him the targets were the Barona Casino & Resort in Lakeside as well as the Valley View and Harrah’s casinos in Valley Center, Casino Pauma and the Pala Casino Resort and Spa.
Cohen’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender David Thompson, called the informant a “lying snitch” during opening statements and on Thursday accused him of making up everything.
Cohen, 45, is charged with staring five wildfires, four along Lake Wohlford Road in Valley Center and one along state Route 67 in Lakeside. Prosecutors also have presented evidence of three other fires that burned small areas along Wildcat Canyon Road in Lakeside not far from Barona.
Cohen had been under investigation for about one year before his arrest last summer. The case against him is mostly circumstantial and based largely on video and camera surveillance which placed Cohen in the vicinity at roughly the same time small brush fires would occur along the sides of roads.
Culver said he initially wanted to testify against Cohen in the hopes of getting his sentence reduced, but — when told that was impossible — eventually decided to cooperate because of the nature of the crime. He said said he lost one house to wildfire in Northern California in years past and almost lost a second in the San Pasqual Valley more recently due to an arson fire.
He testified that Cohen told him how he tried to start fires, using matchbooks and match boxes weighted down with gravel, as well as modified bullets rigged to explode when thrown out of a car window. When investigators searched Cohen’s house they found such bullets.
Cohen faces a maximum of 11 years in prison if convicted. The trial is expected to conclude by the end of next week.
Every day, 2 percent of the cash earned by every slot machine at Rivers Casino goes to the city of Pittsburgh. In 2015, that amounted to $5.5 million. But it wasn’t nearly enough. At the end of the year, the North Shore casino cut a check for another $4.5 million to hand over to the city — representing the difference between what its slot machines produced and the minimum $10 million that Pittsburgh is entitled to annually under state gambling law.
Rivers Casino challenge to slots tax highlights big checks Pa. casinos have been writing
July 21, 2016
By Mark Belko / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Every day, 2 percent of the cash earned by every slot machine at Rivers Casino goes to the city of Pittsburgh. In 2015, that amounted to $5.5 million. But it wasn’t nearly enough.
At the end of the year, the North Shore casino cut a check for another $4.5 million to hand over to the city — representing the difference between what its slot machines produced and the minimum $10 million that Pittsburgh is entitled to annually under state gambling law.
Rivers Casino is no exception.
Last year, eight other casinos in the state ponied up anywhere from $2.4 million to $7.6 million in “true-up” payments to cover the difference between what their slot machines produced for local municipalities and the minimum $10 million they are required to pay their communities.
The municipal portion of the local share tax, enacted when slot machine gambling was legalized in Pennsylvania in 2004, is now the subject of legal challenges by Rivers and two other casinos — Mount Airy and Harrah’s Philadelphia.
Stakes have become high in the legal tussle — so high that Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto canceled an appearance at Rivers Casino Wednesday for a Northside Chamber of Commerce event.
He felt “it is not appropriate to appear at the casino while it is making the city the subject of a lawsuit putting taxpayer funds in jeopardy,” spokesman Tim McNulty said.
Under the system being challenged, all casinos in the state are required to pay the municipal portion except those in Philadelphia and the resort casinos in Nemacolin and Valley Forge. The affected venues pay 2 percent of their gross terminal revenue if it exceeds $500 million or $10 million if it is less than that.
In its lawsuit filed last month, Holdings Acquisition Co., the Rivers Casino owner, claimed the provision “imposes unequal rates of taxation on slot machine licensees” and violates uniformity and equal protection clauses in the state and U.S. constitutions.
The law lacks uniformity, it maintained, because it ordains two tax rates on the same class of taxpayers depending on whether gross terminal revenues are above or below $500 million. That difference in treatment is “arbitrary and not rationally related to any legitimate government purpose,” Holdings argued.
Compounding the matter, at least in the eyes of Holdings, is that casinos in the city of Philadelphia pay 4 percent of their gross terminal revenue as the local share but are not subject to the $10 million minimum. Resort casinos pay 2 percent and aren’t subject to the $10 million minimum.
In the 10 years the state has been collecting the municipal share, no casino has ever exceeded the $500 million figure, meaning all have been required to write checks every year to hit the $10 million level. That’s despite the fact many would be paying much less based solely on revenues.
The way the system works is that the state collects 2 percent a day from casino slot machines and earmarks it for the municipal share. At the end of the year, the state calculates how much has been collected and how much each casino owes as a “true-up” payment to reach the $10 million.
Last year, Parx Casino, the largest in the state, shelled out the least, $2.4 million. Presque Isle in Erie, anted up the most, $7.6 million.
Rivers paid $4.5 million, while The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Washington County paid $5.6 million.
The majority paid between $4 million to $5 million.
Christopher Craig, who helped craft the state’s gambling law as a lawyer working for former state Sen. Vincent Fumo, said the local share was added to help municipalities offset the costs, including police and infrastructure, associated with hosting a casino.
As for the 2 percent versus the $10 million, the legislature was seeking to strike a balance between the needs of the municipality and “not creating a burden” for the casino, Mr. Craig said.
The 4 percent was put in place for Philadelphia because legislators felt gross terminal revenues for casinos in that city would generate more than $10 million a year for the local share.
“People can go back 12 years and quibble with some of the public policy decisions,” Mr. Craig said. “At the end of the day, the act has been extremely successful.”
Should Rivers prevail, Pittsburgh would lose $10 million a year in revenue, though payments the past few years have been tied up in a battle with the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority. Rivers also is demanding about $65 million in refunds for money it paid in the past.
Pittsburgh has been using the gambling funds to prop up its ailing pension fund, as required under the Act 47 recovery plan.
If the city loses the money, it would not be able to meet that state mandate or would have to cut $10 million from “core municipal services” to do so, Mr. McNulty said. The city intends to intervene in the lawsuit.
“The local share tax payments were one of the conditions for granting the casino its license, and it never should have taken this frivolous legal action,” Mr. McNulty said.
Like the city, Denis Rudd, a professor and director of hospitality and tourism management at Robert Morris University, doesn’t think the casino has much of a beef. He said there’s definitely a cost to the municipality in hosting such a venue “and that’s the reason they get a chunk of” the revenue.
Mr. Rudd conceded $10 million is nothing to sneeze at — even for a casino like Rivers that produced $272 million in gross terminal revenue last fiscal year, 54 percent of which went for taxes, including the municipal payment. But all casinos knew going in what the cost would be, he noted.
“They agreed to it, so they should have to pay it,” he said.
Probation officers said Patricia Baddeley Meehan almost immediately started gambling after being released from federal prison in August 2013. Feds Want Embezzler Back In Prison After Gambling On Supervised Release
A day after a federal judge decided not to revoke Patricia Baddeley Meehan's supervised release from prison in February of 2015 and warned her not to gamble, she was playing the slots at Foxwoods Resort Casino — a pattern authorities say of her continuing to gamble while free, winning more than $51,000 in the process.
Now the federal government is asking U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill to revoke her supervised release one month before it is supposed to end and put her back in federal prison for as long as 36 months. Baddeley Meehan, 50, will appear before Underhill on Thursday.
Federal authorities also are expected to ask the judge to order her to forfeit all of the money she won playing slot machines at Foxwoods while she was on probation.
Meehan was sentenced to 46 months in a federal prison in February 2010 after pleading guilty to two counts of mail fraud and one count of filing a false tax return. She admitted that, while employed as a paralegal at the Berman and Russo law firm in South Windsor, she had several credit card accounts in her name that she used for purchases and cash advances to fuel her gambling habit at various casino's.
Authorities said she stole at least $1.7 million from the law firm over a five-year period beginning in 2002.
Meehan was released from federal prison in August 2013 and began her 36 months on federal probation.
But probation officials said she almost immediately started gambling again, using her Foxwoods player card at least 10 times in 2014, according to a court document filed by her probation officer. During that time span she had jackpot winnings of $43,173, court records show.
Federal authorities tried to revoke her probation in February 2015 after she was arrested for stealing funds from a Glastonbury hair dresser where she was working as a receptionist. Underhill postponed doing anything regarding her probation while the state case was pending.
A day after her initial appearance on the revocation, she was at Foxwoods playing slot machines. She last used her player's card at Foxwoods on Feb. 13, 2015 – the day after appearing before Underhill.
But Meehan did not stop gambling. In an apparent effort to evade detection, she stopped using her player's card, according to court records.
Foxwoods did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Authorities only were able to determine she was still gambling because her lucky streak at the slots apparently continued. When a slots player wins more than $1,200 at a machine, they are required to cash out in person and present identification.
Casino records show that Meehan played the slots at least four times in March 2016, winning more than $7,000. Authorities also discovered a $1,600 payout to her in July 2015.
Overall federal authorities allege since she went on probation in 2013 Meehan has won more than $51,862 at the slots at Foxwoods.
As she was apparently winning at the casino, she was not paying down her debt as ordered by the court when she was sentenced. With fees and interest, the court ordered her to repay the law firm about $1.9 million. She has paid back only $8,021 of that, authorities said.
Meehan could face an additional 36 months in federal prison if Underhill determines she has violated the conditions of her release. Her supervised release is scheduled to end as of Aug. 29.
She also is currently facing state larceny charges for the theft from the Glastonbury shop. Court documents show she stole more than $40,000 in cash from The Image Company Hair Salon, where she worked from September 2013 until her termination on Sept. 29, 2014.
Meehan allegedly stole money from the register and the tip jar. She is free on a $75,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in state court again on Feb. 1.
A corruption crackdown in China has seen casino revenues slashed in Macau, but locals say the breakneck growth of the industry since 2003 has changed the semi-autonomous Chinese territory irrevocably
Normally, when an economy shrinks by more than 20% in a year, it means a society is collapsing. Perhaps civil war has broken out, a foreign power has invaded or a natural disaster has crippled the infrastructure.
In Macau — where gross domestic product continues to fall after about $46 billion of market value waswiped out in 2015 — all is calm. The politics in this semiautonomous Chinese territory remain nonconfrontational, impressive new hotels and overhead light rail tracks are still going up. The only visible invaders are the gaggles of selfie-stick-wielding tourists from mainland China, who pose for pictures on the black and white mosaic paving of the old city’s Senado Square, left over from Portuguese rule, which ended in 1999.
And far from fearing for their economic future, some locals are relieved that a decade or so of breakneck economic expansion appears to be over. “I’m happy to see this happen,” says Roberto Souza, a 30-year-old restaurateur. A tattoo on his left shoulder depicts the Virgin Mary; Souza is a member of the Macanese community here, the mostly Roman Catholic, mixed-race descendants of Portuguese settlers. The cosmopolitan free port of his ancestry — Souza also claims a connection to a Japanese seafarer who settled here in the Pearl River Delta way back — is fast becoming a simulacrum of mainland China, he says.
A clue to what he means is found on Souza’s other shoulder, where a banner reading “Macquista” is surrounded by images of playing cards and a roulette wheel. The gambling references are partly a reminder of his personal journey as a risk-taking entrepreneur, he explains: “It means I’m back in the game.” But the ink is also a nod to the reason for his hometown’s slide into recession: Macau’s economy is almost entirely reliant on the casinos where Chinese from the mainland do their gambling. It may bring in money for state coffers, but Souza, whose clientele comprises largely Western expatriates and Macau citizens, feels the gaming industry has corrupted his home. “The money is going into [officials’] pockets through these big projects,” he says, “It’s wasteful.” When the casinos came, “the feeling of Macau, the feeling of the neighborhood, changed very suddenly,” he says. “It’s not a place I feel like I want to stay in.”
Since 2003, when foreign casino operators were first allowed in, Macau’s gaming industry has exploded, dwarfing Las Vegas as the world’s premier gambling destination. Six firms now hold licenses to run gaming operations here, and many of those have built multiple hotels or resorts to cater to mainland China’s huge market for baccarat and other games of chance. On the back of casino revenues, GDP, just $7 billion in 2002, reached $55 billion in 2014, according to the World Bank.
What happened next exposed the foundations of this boom to be shaky, both economically and ethically. Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched a crackdown on graft among officials at all levels of government — both “tigers” at the top and “flies” further down. It turned out, as many already suspected, that corrupt officials looking to launder their ill-gotten cash had made up many of the high rollers visiting the casinos. When China began tightening enforcement of rules on taking money out of the mainland, casino revenues — and with them Macau’s tax base — began to disappear. Moves by regulators, also aimed at preventing the flight of capital from China, continue to squeeze Macau’s gaming sector. In June, revenues fellfor the 25th month in succession.
“It’s what we call the price you pay” Gambling has been part of Macau since before the 1850s, when Portuguese administrators made it legal and taxable. “There’s always been gambling culture here,” says Hao Zhidong, a sociology professor at the University of Macau. There’s always been a cost, too. Hao points to local Cantonese-language poetry from the early 20th century that depicted the damage done to families by gambling addiction. But it’s only recently that Macau has become so utterly dependent on casinos, raising some tough questions. “What is a Macau identity? You’re dealing with an industry that’s really unethical. Is that how you want people to judge you?” he asks.
The rise of the casinos in the last decade precipitated a spike in problem gambling and gambling addiction. Recent statistics suggest rates have begun to subside, but studies show that casino staff are at heightened risk of gambling addiction themselves, as well as other issues related to the nature of the work. A study published by the Asian Journal of Gambling Issues and Public Health in 2013 cites a case where a female casino worker had her arm broken by a drunken gambler irate about losing. Some casino employees also report trauma from witnessing assaults, self-harm and even suicides by gamblers.
But aside from civil service jobs, there are few employment opportunities outside the casinos, says Bianca Lei, the curator of Ox Warehouse, a gallery that displays work by local artists. “Right now, nobody thinks [a casino] is not a good place to work,” she says. And yet, “Some parents even ask their children to go there and make money.” The availability of work in the gaming sector has meanwhile curbed the ambitions of many young people, she says. Property prices have also jumped beyond the reach of many. Some people born in Macau are now said to commute from cheaper areas on the mainland.
Lei says the “immoral” casinos have had a corrosive effect on society. In her work, she has looked at the spaces ignored by the city’s development, which prioritizes getting visitors to and from the casinos. The new light-rail line, for example, will deliver tourists right to the doors of the big hotels; several locals tell TIME they don’t see themselves using the trains at all. “There’s a lot of side effects,” Lei says. “In business and even [in terms of] how to think about the city, they only think, ‘we need to please the tourists.’ I don’t think that is good for the young generation.”
To the list of the gaming industry’s “side effects,” José Pereira Coutinho, probably the territory’s most outspoken lawmaker, adds “money laundering, prostitution, drugs and corruption.” A kind of Faustian pact with casino operators has led to a growing divide between rich and poor, says Coutinho, an elected leader of the Macanese community. But there’s no real choice for Macau, he says: “It’s what we call the price you pay.” And the upsides are considerable, he insists: the government’s accounts are in surplus and unemployment is negligible. As a result, public protests are rare, although young people angered by alleged corruption among Macau officials are leading a small but growing movement of dissent. A further mollifier for Macau’s populace comes in the form of an annual cash handout of just over $1,100 for every citizen. “We want people to be happy and keep their mouths shut and not demonstrate, because we don’t like that too much,” Coutinho says, with an ironic smile. “That’s the way it’s being done here in Macau, and it seems like it’s working.”
“This is not Macau anymore” “Have a glamorous night,” says a server as he hands over an egg tart, the Portuguese-inspired sweet of choice in Macau. It’s a rare glimpse of Old Macau inside Studio City, a massive Hollywood-themed casino and hotel that, according to promotional material, “encompasses a labyrinth of pleasures.” On a visit in June, the central gaming floor buzzes with the grim tension of high-stakes card games, regularly interspersed by the electronic chirrup of slot machines dishing out their jackpots.
The development, which opened in October, is emblematic of a plan to make Macau more than just China’s giant betting shop. Macau’s currentfive-year plan targets family-friendly tourism. Lawrence Ho, the CEO of Melco Crown Entertainment, the firm behind Studio City, insists there’s “potential in the mass market, supported by the increasing spending power of the Asian middle-class.” The Art Deco-styled casino features a Batman-branded virtual reality ride, and is punctured above the 23rd floor by a figure-eight aperture housing a Ferris wheel. Players can bet as little as 65 cents on the slots, and the casino currently has no VIP section. “By offering a wide variety of unique and world-class entertainment besides gaming facilities, we believe a new demand to visit Macau from a broader range of demographics, including more family visitors could be created,” Ho, whose father once owned the sole gaming license in Macau, says in a written response to TIME. Even if expectations are met, however, nongaming takings will only make up 9% of the operators’ revenues by 2020. For now, the wide corridors of Studio City, decked with upscale retail, restaurants and nightclubs are almost devoid of foot traffic. The number of Chinese visiting Macau on package tours has fallen by 36% year on year, and hotels have been slashing their room rates to keep occupancy steady.
If the plan to open up Macau’s tourism industry is to succeed, prospective visitors — who would theoretically include many more non-Chinese — need to see that there’s more to do than gamble. The Macau tourist board has begun pushing the city’s cultural heritage, producing a slick video boosting the city’s cultural sights. “[Macau’s] casino culture hides the city’s true charms,” historian Julian Davidson says in the voiceover, as a drone-mounted camera swoops between the monolithic casino buildings and over the old city‘s Ruins of St. Paul, what’s left of a church built by Jesuit missionaries. “It’s what lies beneath that tells the real story of this tiny region,” Davidson adds. At the ruins themselves, selfie-takers are out in force again, spending the very tourist patacas that the territory’s government is after. Here, the heritage remains underplayed — shops give free samples of dried meats or cookies, others sell brand-name running shoes and pharmaceuticals to mainlanders.
But successful preservation of much of the architecture has also kept in tact something of old Europe. At the nearby St. Anthony’s Church, a well-attended Sunday mass, in Portuguese, has just finished. A tour guide recounts the church’s story: the stone structure is steeped in almost half a millennium of history, including the tale that it caught fire during a devastating 1874 typhoon, acting — some say miraculously — as a lighthouse — and savior — for some of the thousands who were washed into the sea by the tempest. But the guide’s audience, visitors from China, sit slumped in the pews. One plays on a smartphone. Chan Kim-ying chides a couple for putting their feet on the kneeling rail. Chan, a church custodian and a Macau-Chinese convert to Catholicism, doubts that there’s much potential for cultural tourists from mainland China, above the current low level. “They treat it like a park because they don’t understand,” she says. Western tourists and Asian Christians from places like South Korea do come, and are more appreciative of Macau’s heritage, says Chan, “but they are only a few.” “Now they [government officials] are pushing the historical heritage,” Chan adds, “but [tourism] is still mostly just gamblers.”
Some hold out hope that Macau could play a larger role in linking China and the Lusophone world, which includes large economies like Brazil and resource-rich states like Angola. “I know that the central government in China wants Macau to be the real platform of the Portuguese-speaking countries,” says Rita Santos, a former civil servant who served as deputy secretary general of Forum Macau, an intergovernmental body that seeks to facilitate such links. “Not so many very rich VIPs are coming to Macau,” she says, “so now is a great time for the government to think: What is our plan for the diversification of the economy in Macau?” In a sign, perhaps, of some movement on this front, a growing contingent of young Portuguese are living in the city, drawn to Macau by its combination of historic ties to Portugal and its position on the doorstep of China (it helps that Portugal is mired in a long-running economic crisis). “China is rising, and you can have economic success more easily,” says João Nonis, a 20-year-old Lisbon native, whose family hails from another former Portuguese colonial outpost, Guinea-Bissau. He came to Macau two years ago so that he can study in English, but says Macau should embrace its unique combination of linguistic and cultural history. “The Portuguese connection is what’s special about Macau,” says Nonis.
For now, it’s the casinos that remain Macau’s economic focus. “We are the closest place to China for Chinese people to come to game, and we don’t need to diversify,” says Coutinho, bluntly. “The structure of our economy is gaming.” Next door to Studio City, The Parisian Macao is almost complete. It’s the latest extension of Republican financier Sheldon Adelson’s Sands empire. He’s already built the Venetian Macao on the same Cotai Strip, which contains a model version of the Piazza San Marco and a canal replete with gondolas under the 24-hour daylight of an artificial cloud-dappled sky. The Parisian goes a step further: a half-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower is already complete. For Lei, the curator, this one-upmanship typifies the counterfeit nature of the new Macau, made in the image of its Nevada counterpart. “Actually, Las Vegas is a copy, so Macau is a copy of a copy,” she laments. “I suddenly realize there are a lot of places where I think, this is not Macau anymore. It feels so strange. The atmosphere is a little bit fake.”
In northern California, the federally-recognized Mechoopda Indian Tribe Of Chico Rancheria could finally be allowed to open a casino after a federal judge upheld a previous land-into-trust ruling over the objections of local officials.
According to a report from The Bellingham Herald newspaper, the tribe wants to construct a 42,000 sq ft casino on a portion of 625 acres of land located about ten miles south of the city of Chico. After purchasing the plot in 2001, the Mechoopda Indian Tribe Of Chico Rancheria submitted a land-into-trust application with the Department Of The Interior and had the request approved in 2008.
It was at this point that Butte County, which already hosts a pair of casinos in the Gold Country Casino And Hotel and the Feather Falls Casino And Lodge, objected in court citing environmental and water-supply concerns. This eventually resulted in an appellate court ordering the Department Of The Interior to conduct a review into its decision, which ultimately led to the federal agency via then-Assistant Secretary Of The Interior Kevin Washburn to conclude in 2014 that its original verdict had been justified.
Undeterred by the Department Of The Interior’s second pronouncement, Butte County took the matter to the United States District Court For The District Of Columbia in hopes of overturning the land-into-trust decision.
However, in his Friday ruling, Judge Frederick Scullin wrote that the Department Of The Interior’s 2014 decision had been “thorough and well-reasoned” and had “included explanations that were consistent with the evidence before the agency and considered all of the relevant issues” including a claim from the Mechoopda Indian Tribe Of Chico Rancheria that they were among the first peoples to have lived in the areas around Chico.
“The secretary noted that he had derived the recitation of the tribe’s history from his review of all of the documents submitted by the tribe and the county as well as his own independent research,” read the 17-page decision from Scullin, who was appointed to the federal bench 24 years ago by then-President George HW Bush.
“We’re very pleased, obviously,” Sandra Knight, Vice-Chairperson for the Mechoopda Indian Tribe Of Chico Rancheria, told the newspaper. “This battle has been going on for more than ten years.”
Despite the possibility that Butte County could appeal the land-into-trust decision a final time, the tribe stated that it now intends to proceed with plans to build a casino offering around 500 slots and ten gaming tables.
“Since we were re-recognized, we have the right to establish reservation or tribal land in Chico,” Knight told local television broadcaster KHSL-TV. “They went after the tribe at it’s core, saying that we were a manufactured tribe. This is just a main economic development project for the tribe that will create funding for future generations; childcare, healthcare, all of those things that we haven’t been able to provide for our members.”
U.S. District Judge Frederick Scullen denied Butte County’s request to block the Mechoopda Indian Tribe’s proposed casino, paving the way for a casino to be built on a portion of 600 acres owned by the tribe at the northeast intersection of Highways 99 and 149.
Butte County asserted that the government's decision to take the land into trust was unfounded, and agreed with the Department of Interior's determination that the tribe did indeed have a historical connection to the land.
In a statement, the Mechoopda Tribe said it looks forward to advancing its proposed casino project.
Law360, Washington (May 10, 2016, 1:09 PM ET) -- A D.C. federal judge on Tuesday appeared poised to deny a California county’s request to block a proposed casino for the Mechoopda Native American tribe, saying at a hearing the county failed to show how the federal government’s decision to take land into trust was unfounded.
U.S. District Judge Frederick Scullen said Butte County was essentially asking the court to “second guess” the Department of Interior’s determination that the Mechoopda had a historical connection to hundreds of acres in Chico, California, and “substitute” his judgment for...
Mechoopda Casino Project Upheld in Federal Court April 16, 2009
The Mechoopda Casino Project was challenged by Butte County in Federal court, however U.S. District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. dismissed the county’s suit yesterday. AES prepared the NEPA Environmental Assessment for the Tribe’s casino project.
Judge: County can’t stop casino
By ROGER H. AYLWORTH – Staff Writer
Posted: 04/14/2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
OROVILLE — After more than two years of legal briefs, arguments and counter-arguments, a federal court in Washington, D.C. has rejected a Butte County effort to block a Mechoopda casino on Highway 149, about a mile east of Highway 99.
Monday, representatives of the tribe and the county issued announcements that U.S. District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. had dismissed the county’s suit.
Butte County Counsel Bruce Alpert, in a press release, stated, “The proposed casino site on Highway 149 will have major public safety, traffic, environmental and groundwater impacts.
“For the past several years, the casino developer has simply refused to work with Butte County to find an alternative site. As a result, Butte County had no recourse other than this litigation.”
Throughout the entire process, the county maintained the lawsuit was about environmental concerns related to the tribe’s proposed casino site, and not an attack on the Mechoopda.
Even so, the suit, which was filed against the National Indian Gaming Commission and the Department of the Interior, sought to persuade the court the agencies could not grant the Chico Rancheria Mechoopda the right to use the land because the Mechoopda did not qualify as a tribe.
Based on a study conducted in 2006 by Professor Stephen Dow Beckham, of Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., the county lawsuit charged the Chico Rancheria unit of the Mechoopda Indians was not a tribe in any meaningful sense, but was an amalgamation of 11 groups that had little or nothing to do with the historic Mechoopda tribe.
The county claimed if the Chico Rancheria group was not a legitimate tribe, the federal agencies could not grant them the necessary authority to put a casino on the Highway 149 property.
“The court has considered the briefing, scoured the record, and pressed the parties on this issue during oral argument. Having done so, the court cannot find the county has done enough to justify setting aside the agencies’ actions here,” wrote Judge Kennedy in his decision.
Doug Elmets of Sacramento, the tribe’s spokesman, said the casino project is “alive and well.”
“This project has been in the process for many years despite the hurdles that have been thrown in its way, particularly by Butte County,” he said.
Elmets explained, from the tribe’s perspective, the next step will be to get the agreements with the state that will allow for gaming on the 645-acre site.
He also said it is far too early to discuss a target for groundbreaking.
The press release from the county said the possibility of an appeal is still being discussed.
As of the end of 2008, the litigation had cost the county nearly $322,800, according to records obtained by the tribe.
Elmets charged that was money “that was flushed down the drain on a frivolous lawsuit.”