Many West Coasters are aware of a longstanding attempt to build an Indian casino in the Mojave Desert in Barstow, a city in San Bernardino County, California. The gambling laws of California permit only tribal casinos to operate. This project has been in development for more than 10 years as it moves through the bureaucracy of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Many believe that a decision on the matter will soon be issued from Washington, which would be a relief to those with an interest in the casino project. That group includes many individuals with no direct stake in the development of the new gambling venue, but whose lives and wallets would be affected nonetheless should the project come to fruition.
An example is found in local landowners who live in the area where the casino would be sited. For those who have an interest in selling their property, the timing of the development plays a significant role. Land that might be of interest to developers would bring a far greater price if the project gets the green light, and the span of such reach goes far beyond the actual site of the casino itself. Development in the nearby areas could lead to new hotels, gas stations, restaurants and retail spaces, all of which could bring a premium price to land currently held by Barstow residents.
If the Indian casino project moves forward, the town of Barstow and the surrounding area could see an influx of $160 million in various investments. An estimated 1,000 construction jobs would be brought in to complete the project, and an additional 1,085 local jobs would be created at the casino itself. Annual revenue could reach $126 million. While these numbers are speculative in nature, there is no question that the project would bring an economic boost to an area that could use an infusion of cash. For individuals who own property in the area, the matter is often one of scale. Placing the property on the market now could yield a handful of interested buyers at a good price. However, if the casino project is approved, that price could multiply exponentially.
This leaves landowners left wondering whether to sell now or gamble for a huge payout in the months or years to come.
No one wants to let a piece of property go for less than it is worth, but in this case the future worth of any given parcel is difficult if not impossible to accurately assess. Making matters even more complicated, consider the predicament of landowners who would like to develop their own property for personal use.
Until the casino project is approved or rejected in Washington, there is no way to predict what course development in Barstow might take. An individual who would like to build a family home on his or her land would be taking a serious gamble to do so right now, even without considering what that land is worth. Building one’s dream house on a gorgeous piece of property with a beautiful horizon might yield an investment that could be passed down from one generation to another. It might also result in a beautiful home hemmed in by unappealing commercial projects, which could change one’s view of the horizon in every conceivable way.
In a similar vein, residents in and around Barstow have mixed feelings about the proposed casino project and how it could affect the local economy and overall quality of life. While the casino itself is relatively small (it would only contain 100 hotel rooms,) it is difficult to estimate how many people would travel to the area to visit the property. However, there can be no question that a new casino would increase the flow of visitors by the thousands. This could mean a significant negative impact on traffic conditions, as well as the growth and development of areas that are currently in a natural state. Not everyone in the area is a fan of the proposed project, but many who might like to move elsewhere feel as if they are being held hostage by the federal approval process.
When asked, Barstow manager of economic development and planning Gaither Lowenstein says that resolution of the matter is important to everyone in the area, no matter which side of the fence one stands on having an Indian casino as a new neighbor. Should the project be approved, the market for land in the area would stabilize, giving landowners a chance to make an informed decision about whether to sell or hold their properties. If the project does not receive approval, development options remain, just on a smaller scale.
Lowenstein is confident that Barstow’s development prospects are not limited to the casino project, and points to multiple inquiries about land along the I-15 corridor. He asserts that land in the area is well-suited for a variety of development projects. Many others agree, but feel that it is not the casino project delays that are the source of instability, but the lack of infrastructure needed to support development in general. These residents are also looking forward the resolution on the matter, so that the attention and efforts of city planners and developers can be put to use in creating a plan, regardless of whether a new Indian casino plays a role in that plan or not.
As for individual landowners in the Barstow area, the fate of their future financial scenarios continues to be a gamble.