Published on October 10, 2003 , page B1

© 2003- The Press Democrat 

The federal government on Thursday took a San Pablo card room into trust for a Sonoma County Indian tribe that wants to open the first casino in a major metropolitan area in California.

The Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, which previously had no land in its name, plans few immediate changes but ultimately intends to convert the card room into a Nevada-style casino, representatives said.``We are ecstatic to have a tribal land base again and look forward to beginning a new chapter in our history,'' Margie Mejia, chairwoman of the Healdsburg-based tribe, said in a written statement.She said the casino promises the 253-member tribe ``economic self-sufficiency and bright futures for generations to come.''

The Lyttons are one of several NorthCoasttribes interested in opening casinos in more populated parts of the state though it is the only tribe to secure land for such a project to date.The tribe has yet to secure a mandatory gaming compact from the state, however, and it still faces legal challenges from traditional card room owners who say the tribal casino would drive them out of business.

Alan Titus, an attorney representing the card rooms, called the U.S. Interior Department decision Thursday to accept the San Pablo land into trust -- a requirement for gaming -- for the Lyttons ``a farce.''

``Laws recognizing Indian sovereignty were intended to protect Indians when they lived on separate reservations, and were not intended to give them special privileges in operating commercial businesses in the middle of cities,'' he said.

The card rooms, which tried unsuccessfully in court to prevent the land from being taken into trust, are pursuing a separate federal lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the Lyttontribe.Congress directed the Interior Department to accept the land into trust, a position supported by the city of San Pablo.Titus complained that the tribe skirted provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requiring review of the proposal, adding that the act ``contained this provision especially to prevent this type of situations, where a tribe goes `reservation shopping' for new land near a city.''

But Tony Cohen, the Lytton's attorney, said the tribe was entitled to the 9-acre property under legislation acknowledging and atoning for the tribe's termination in the 1950s.He said the tribe approached San Pablo because it had welcomed the privately owned card room in the first place as part of an urban renewal effort in the mid-'90s.Cohen said the tribe negotiated a revenue-sharing agreement, as well as arrangements requiring the tribe to submit development plans for city review and public hearings on an advisory basis.

``We're sure the tribe won't be disregarding the city's wishes,'' he said.The tribe used a $21 million loan from Austin, Texas-based Multimedia Games Inc. to gain title to the land.Until it negotiates a gaming compact with the state, the tribe is limited primarily to adding high-stakes bingo to existing card games.

Though Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger has no track record, Cohen said the tribe was ``encouraged'' by his openness to gaming, provided tribes contribute their fair share.