Both sides appear to be digging in for an intense showdown over the Twentynine Palms Band of Mission Indians’ plan to build a casino in Joshua Tree.
The tribe abandoned a previous proposal to develop what its members hoped to call the Nüwü Casino on 160 acres of tribal land on their reservation south of Baseline Road and west of Adobe Road bordering Joshua Tree National Park in Twentynine Palms after local activists and the Department of Defense opposed building a casino in their town and so proximate to the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base and its 8,400 plus service members and dependents.
The tribe now wants to establish a complex with spacious gaming rooms, a buffet, banquet room, shops, bowling lanes, an outdoor amphitheater, RV park, golf course and other resort-oriented improvements 23 miles south on a 130-acre parcel it has acquired on the north side of Twentynine Palms Highway west of White Feather Road east of downtown Joshua Tree and just east of Desert View Homes’ metal dinosaurs.
The tribe, led by Darrel Mike, believes it can overcome local opposition to the Joshua Tree site, appeal to the populace by promoting the casino as a boon to the local economy and use federal regulations which allow a tribe to develop an Indian casino off reservation if it meets certain conditions, including filing an application with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to place the land in a public trust and making a case that the tribe had ancestral roots in the area to which it is seeking to relocate by virtue of aboriginal activity, which included hunting, foraging and trading, in particular.
At the same time, casino opponents are availing themselves of procedural leverage available to them, including convincing the governor to veto the transfer, and using the California Environmental Quality Act’s land use restrictions to outright block the project or make it prohibitively expensive to proceed with. The opponents are also hoping to delay the project long enough so that it will be subject to legislation now being proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and Senator John McCain of Arizona that would tighten and make more exacting the requirements pertaining to a tribe needing to demonstrate its historic connection to the land upon which it is to locate an off-reservation casino.
Feinstein has already gone on record as being opposed to the Joshua Tree site for the casino.