A Garden Grove casino? Don’t bet on it

An Indian tribe's plan is on the council's agenda, but two of five council members oppose the idea and a third has doubts.

After years of toying with the notion of building Orange County's first casino, Garden Grove officials are now close to throwing in the towel on the idea once and for all.

Two of the city's five council members said they oppose the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe's plan for an opulent casino; a third council member, who said he had been intrigued by the proposal, acknowledged it may be in trouble.

"I don't necessarily want to run them out of town, but this particular tribe seems to have all chiefs and no Indians," Councilman Steve Jones said. "It's hard to know who's in charge. I think there's a whole lot of hype without much substance."

Councilman Bruce Broadwater, the city's former mayor, said he expects the Las Vegas-style casino plan to be eliminated at Tuesday's council meeting from a list of projects under consideration for a 40-acre Harbor Boulevard parcel near Disneyland.

Because of its proximity to Anaheim's bustling resort district, the land has long been viewed as a potential gold mine, as long as the right tenants could be found.

And Garden Grove officials had been enticed by the Gabrielino-Tongva proposal, which promised a $5.1-billion windfall to city coffers over 30 years, an additional $100 million for infrastructure improvements, nearly 10,000 jobs and even a college scholarship for every high school graduate in Garden Grove.

But the plan has drawn criticism from community leaders, and the City Council appears to have grown weary of listening to dreamy pitches for luring tourists and big bucks to the city.

One developer proposed a replica of the London Bridge across a man-made river. Another pitched a music-themed entertainment complex, and another suggested a cultural center dedicated to the late King Hussein of Jordan.

But the casino plan in particular has drawn skepticism.

"We're talking to a tribe that is not recognized, with no money," Broadwater said. "It would be ridiculous to do business with these people."

There are an estimated 2,000 Gabrielinos in Southern California, but the tribe has yet to gain federal recognition, which could complicate and even doom its efforts to build a casino. Because the Gabrielinos have no land, the tribe would have to promote a statewide ballot measure allowing state-recognized tribes to build casinos.

Jonathan Stein, chief executive of the Gabrielino faction pushing the casino, said the tribe can open a casino in Garden Grove with proper legislation and a negotiated compact with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This is the second time Garden Grove has considered bringing a casino to town. Three years ago, city officials met with a different tribe and Las Vegas heavyweight Steve Wynn about building a casino-hotel. But the deal soured.

This time around, city officials have been hearing opposition from Garden Grove's large Vietnamese American community. Trung Nguyen, a Garden Grove Unified School District Board member, was one of five elected officials from the local Vietnamese American community who signed a letter urging Mayor William Dalton to scrap the casino plan.

"Vietnamese people like to gamble, and the more convenient it is, the more they'd participate," said Nguyen, who plans to voice his concerns at Tuesday night's meeting. "I think this would cause friction at home and create a social problem."

County Supervisor Janet Nguyen, a former Garden Grove council member and no relation to the school trustee, said she also planned to speak against the casino Tuesday night because of a family member's experience with gambling.

"I've learned firsthand that gambling is addictive and a destructive habit," she said. "I will ask the City Council to vote this down to save the character of the city of Garden Grove."

The casino is one of four plans the council will consider Tuesday night. The other proposals include a mix of hotels, shops and restaurants, and apartments and condominiums. City Manager Matt Fertal said he would present "scenarios that would keep all options open."

Jones said he would prefer to narrow the field to one, but said there is a "possibility" of moving forward yet reserving 5 to 10 acres of the site for a future casino or hotel.

Jones said it might be helpful to have the community weigh in on the casino plan.

"I'm dying to know what the people think, but I don't want to commit any of the city's resources to find out," he said.

Councilman Mark Rosen, who had been supportive of the casino concept, said he expected the council to make some decisions.

"At a certain point, you've got to narrow your options," he said. "The land we're talking about, you can't hold that open indefinitely and you can't keep putting all these developers on hold."

If the Gabrielinos strike out in Garden Grove, they might turn to Long Beach, where one councilwoman recently mentioned a Gabrielino casino near the Queen Mary as a possible solution to its budget problems.


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