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McCain critical of Lytton casino process



WASHINGTON Sen. John McCain, the new chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said Thursday it was wrong to allow the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians to circumvent federal law to build a casino across the bay from San Francisco.

The Arizona Republican promised to hold hearings on a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein that would block the 2,500-slot casino, which the tribe plans to build on nonreservation land.

"I think it was wrong the way that this tribe was allowed to do it. I don't think that's the proper process," McCain told reporters outside a press conference. "How do we fix that, I'm not sure."

The Lytton Band of Pomo Indians got the right to build the casino on the site of a San Pablo card room because of language inserted in a 2000 spending bill by Rep. George Miller, D-Concord, that gave the land special federal trust status. Without Miller's intervention, the tribe, which has no reservation of its own, would have had to go through a lengthy process of getting federal and state approval.

The legislation by Feinstein, D-Calif., would revoke the special trust status and require the tribe to go through the normal approval process, which can take years.

Lytton spokesman Doug Elmets said the tribe would welcome the opportunity to tell its story before McCain's committee.

"The Miller legislation really represents the final chapter in the federal government's mistreatment of the Lytton Indian tribe," Emlets said. "Only with the Miller amendment and putting land back in the tribe's hands did the government fully redress the wrongs it was responsible for back in the 1950s, wrongs which the government now acknowledges committing."

The Lytton Band's initial agreement with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for a casino with 5,000 slot machines, which would be the state's largest. Facing opposition, tribal officials cut the number of slots in half, and they unveiled revised plans this week for a 342,000-square-foot structure. State legislative approval is pending.

McCain took over the chairmanship of the Indian Affairs Committee this year from Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., a tribal ally who never held a hearing on an identical bill Feinstein introduced during the past congressional session.

McCain signaled Thursday he plans vigorous oversight of tribal gambling. "We're going to have hearings on the whole issue of Indian gaming, ranging from oversight to off-reservation sites, to others," he said. "It's now a $16.3 billion-a-year business. It needs to be looked at very carefully."