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California Governor Gavin Newsom speaking at the State of the State address in Sacramento, CA, Mar 8, 2022. (Photo: Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock)

Governor Newsom Signs Bill Ratifying Latest Tribal-State Gaming Compact

CEQA allowances are to be given in compact

By Evan Symon, May 23, 2023 2:30 am

A bill to grant certain California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) allowances for the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, due to a recently passed tribal-state gaming compact, was signed into law by Governor Newsom on Monday.

Assembly Bill 498, authored by Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), would specifically ratify the tribal-state gaming compact entered into between the State of California and the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, executed on March 9, 2023. AB 498 would provide that, in deference to tribal sovereignty, certain actions related to this compact are not projects for purposes of CEQA.

The bill was written by Aguiar-Curry due to complications of the recent compact, which renewed the previous agreement between the state and the Graton Rancheria Indians made in 2012, expanding the number of authorized slot machines at Graton Resort and Casino from 3,000 to 6,000. This made it one of the casinos with the most slot machines in the state. In addition, the compact added more support for limited and non-gaming tribes through the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund (RSTF), moving the amount above the previous cap of $1.1 million per year.

“We are happy to improve our compact with the State of California and continue to provide needed community funds for the City of Rohnert Park, Sonoma County and our state,” Tribal Chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Greg Sarris said in March. “This compact allows the tribe to grow as a self-sustaining sovereign nation and continue to support our mission of social justice and environmental stewardship.”

However, questions over the compact ratification were raised, with Aguiar-Curry submitting  AB 498 in February. Due to the compact being reached in March, AB 498 was fast-tracked in the Legislature, passing both the Assembly and Senate unanimously earlier this month with full bipartisan support. For most, Governor Newsom signing the bill on Monday only a few days after formally receiving it was all but a foregone conclusion.

“This is one of those bills that pretty much everyone agreed on should move forward since it was all but a formality, but still something they needed to vote on,” explained Charles Platt, who assists Casino and gaming companies with state and local matters, to the Globe on Monday. “It was a simple ratification in many ways, but it also said that some regulations, due to Tribal laws, wouldn’t be put into place. All this is is a big state ok to expanding the casino and allowing them to go over that one cap.”

“With voters rejecting sports betting last year and places like Las Vegas, Reno, and other Californian tribal casinos making big moves for more customers, every casino is making pushes for more slot machines, different entertainment, different draws, more contests – everything. Every legalized casino is trying to keep business close to home across the country, especially with a recession looking more and more likely. This bill is just another step to expand and stay competitive. It’s highly regulated in California, so that’s why it needs to go through the legislature.”

Other gaming related bills are expected to go up through the legislature soon.

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