Lytton Band of Pomo Indians

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Not to be confused with Lytton First Nation.

The Lytton Band of Pomo Indians is a federally recognized tribe of Pomo Native Americans. They were recognized in the late 1980s as lineal descendants of the two families who lived at the Lytton Rancheria in Healdsburg, California from 1937 to about 1960. The tribe now has between 200 and 300 enrolled members.


The tribe was founded in 1937 by Bert Steele, who was one-quarter Achomawi and part Nomlaki, and his wife, a Pomo from Bodega Bay, when they successfully petitioned the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs for the right to build on a 50-acre (200,000 m2) plot north of Healdsburg north of Lytton Station Road after Steele's home was destroyed in a flood. Along with his brother-in-law, John Myers, and his wife, Mary Myers Steele (both Pomo from Sonoma), he moved onto the land, which the government had set aside for Native Americans.[1] This land became the Lytton Rancheria and the namesake for the tribe.

In 1958, in accordance with a policy of assimilating Native Americans into the rest of American society, Congress terminated the federal trust in the reservations lands of over forty California bands, including the Lytton Rancheria. The Lytton band was dissolved and its land was deeded to its members. As part of the agreement, the government agreed to perform several improvements on the land, such as building roads and installing sewage service, but failed to do so. Within a year, the land-owning Lyttons had all sold, for reasons that are not clear; some current tribe members say that their ancestors did not understand property taxes and so were forced to sell, while other sources dispute that claim.

In 1991 the Lyttons successfully petitioned the government to restore their tribal status. Though the Lytton Band does not divulge a complete list of members, most sources report the band now has over 200 members.

Other bands of Pomo include the Guideville Band of Pomo Indians and the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians.

Acquisition of Casino San Pablo cardroom[edit]

After the community of American Canyon rebuffed the Lyttons' attempts to turn an existing cardroom into a casino, the Lyttons set their sights on the city of San Pablo, home of the Casino San Pablo (CSP) cardroom. Cardrooms are California gambling establishments where the house has no stake in the games. Customers typically pay a fixed amount to the house per hand, regardless of whether they win or lose.

With the assistance of the city of San Pablo and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, the Lyttons lobbied local Congressman George Miller to help turn Casino San Pablo into their reservation. Under the terms of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, only tribes who acquired land prior to 1988 would be eligible to operatore casinos on their land.[2] The Lyttons regained their tribal status in 1991 and were ineligible. Miller added a provision to the Omnibus Indian Advancement Act of 2000 that took CSP into federal trust and backdated its acquisition to 1988. When President Clinton signed the bill into law, the Lyttons gained the right to turn the CSP, formerly a low-stakes cardroom, into a full-fledged casino with much more profitable gambling devices and games such as slot machines and blackjack.

Miller's backdating clause, in a section labeled "technical corrections," has been described as "midnight legislation" and "underhanded". Professor Nelson Rose, a gambling law expert from Whittier College, said the bill "bordered on illegal".[3] Others dispute that the language was added inappropriately; a former staffer for U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye described the process as nothing out of the ordinary, saying, "That's the way the republic works".[4]

Casino expansion plans[edit]

The Lyttons' plans for their casino have undergone several changes since inception. In order to operate so-called Class III games, such as slot machines, Native American casinos must negotiate a compact with the state; the Lyttons have revised their casino plans several times in the hopes of procuring such a compact from California. One element of the plan has been the Lyttons' request that the state grant them a monopoly on gaming within a 35-mile (56 km) radius of CSP.

After acquiring Casino San Pablo, the Lyttons announced plans to expand it from 70,000 square feet (6,500 m2) into a 600,000-square-foot (56,000 m2) six- to eight-story casino with up to 5,000 slot machines,[5] bigger than the MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The plan met with bipartisan hostility from the California State Legislature, and the Lyttons revised the figure to 2,500 slots. After failing to procure a compact based on this plan either, the Lyttons instead added 500 "video bingo" machines to CSP, which, as Class II machines, do not require a state compact.[6]

Public reaction and response[edit]

Some people have oppose the Lytton Band's casino plan. U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in particular expressed opposition in 2003, citing concerns that "off-reservation gambling" would be a strain on local resources, aggravate traffic congestion and increase crime.[7] The mayor of San Pablo expressed shock at the plan in 2004.[8] California Assemblywoman Loni Hancock and mayor of neighboring Richmond also expressed displeasure at the plan, as did U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in April, 2005 [10].

Tribal spokespeople countered in 2005 that the casino is "the final act in redressing the wrongs", the reparations for the government's dissolution of their tribe's legal status and reservation lands. They say they will plan to use revenue from the casino to built modest homes, a community center, and a roundhouse, on 50 acres (200,000 m2) in the town of Windsor that they recently purchased.[9] In addition, they say the casino would create 6600 jobs—more than one job per slot machine—and provide the city, county and state governments with 25 percent of gaming revenue.[10] Based on the original, 5,000-machine plan, this amounts to $125 million a year to the state and $4.8 million a year to the city of San Pablo.


  1. ^ [1]
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  5. ^ [5]
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  9. ^ "Windsor opposes tribal development". Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. May 8, 2009. 
  10. ^ [9]

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