10:00 PM PDT on Monday, August 1, 2011

By JIM MILLER
Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – An impoverished San Diego County tribe has renewed efforts to open an off-reservation casino in Barstow, but the proposal faces opposition from at least one of the Inland tribes that helped scuttle an earlier casino deal five years ago.

The Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Copeno Indians wants to put a casino on 23 acres off Interstate 15, 160 miles from its remote reservation an hour southeast of Temecula.

The tribe first needs to reach a gaming agreement with the state. In addition, the tribe needs to persuade the federal government to take the land into trust.

On July 1, the U.S. Bureau of Indians Affairs released a draft environmental review of the project, part of the lengthy trust process. A Barstow hearing on the Los Coyotes band’s application last week drew several hundred people.

The proposal is part of a national debate over off-reservation gaming. Some members of Congress have introduced legislation to ban what critics call reservation shopping. But supporters of a Barstow casino call it a unique situation that will create hundreds of jobs in a region hit hard by the recession.

“This is a casino designed to capture traffic between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. You’re not stepping on anyone else’s territory here,” said Tom Shields, a spokesman for the Michigan group behind the casino project. The group, BarWest LLC, is backed by Michigan’s Marian Ilitch, co-founder of Little Caesars pizza and other businesses.

But a spokesman for the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians near San Bernardino said the tribe opposes the project because the Los Coyotes tribe has no ancestral ties to the Barstow area.

“We’re not opposed to tribes going off their lands for gaming projects,” San Manuel spokesman Jacob Coin said.

“But by allowing these encroachments to happen, it will irrevocably change the cultural history of those lands.”

In 2005, the Los Coyotes tribe and the Big Lagoon Rancheria of Humboldt County negotiated joint casino deals with former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. It let the tribes open side-by-side casinos in Barstow, in return for sharing slot-machine revenue with the state.

But an Assembly committee rejected the pacts in 2006 after representatives of the San Manuel tribe and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, in the Coachella Valley, said the tribes had no ties to the area.

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