The measure would allow the tribe to keep more than 1,000 bingo-style machines in the once-sleepy cardroom.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein's bill cleared the Senate late Monday by unanimous consent. Her office is now seeking support in the House, said spokesman Phil LaVelle.
Locally, the bill has won the backing of the same county and state lawmakers who roundly slammed a mega-casino deal in 2004 between the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
That deal would have allowed the tribe to run more than 5,000 slot machines more than any casino in Sin City.
At the time, Schwarzenegger said he had no choice but to negotiate with the tribe under federal law, and was seeking the best revenue-sharing deal for the state.
But in the face of an East Bay outcry, the Legislature shelved the deal, along with another for a casino half that size. Feinstein's bill would prevent the tribe from going back to Sacramento to try again without first running a regulatory gauntlet in Washington, D.C.
The tribe, which pulls in more than $100 million a year from the existing casino, supports the bill. So does the city of San Pablo, which nets about $12 million a year three-quarters of the city's general fund from the existing Lytton casino.
Quiet opposition remains among
Backers see the bill as a tidy compromise that would keep the status quo on a 9-acre casino site that the federal government placed into trust for the Lyttons thanks to legislation by Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, in 2000.
Feinstein lambasted Miller's bill as a stealthy run around the high regulatory hurdles for tribes seeking "off-reservation" casinos under federal law. She called it legislation "done in the dead of night" and fought for years to reverse it.
That move would prevent the tribe from running any gambling operation in San Pablo and leave the long-embattled city in the cold.
But her attempts met a roadblock in the Senate, largely due to opposition from Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. Specter was believed to be helping Sam Katz, a former Philadelphia mayoral hopeful and the tribe's earliest financier. Under the bill the Senate passed Monday, the tribe could expand the 70,000-square-foot casino only if it went through the normal, longshot process under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. No California tribe has ever succeeded in that process.
The Lytton band, which now runs 1,050 electronic bingo machines and 16 gaming tables at the Morrocan-style casino, does not plan to go that route, said spokesman Doug Elmets.
He called the Senate vote positive news for the tribe, the city and casino employees.
Miller, who has said he never expected the Lyttons to push for a casino expansion, has remained silent on the bill. A spokeswoman said he was reviewing it.
Contact John Simerman at 925-943-8072 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.