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When it comes to Indian gaming, the old maxim about real estate (location, location, location) has always been true, and last week Holland & Knight registered to lobby for a tribe with some prime real estate. The San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians, whose casino lies just 65 miles east of Los Angeles, operates a casino with 2,000 slots that’s already among California’s most profitable. (According to local news accounts over the years, the tribe’s roughly 200 members receive dividend checks in the range of $100,000 a month.) The H&K team on the San Manuel contract — Philip Baker-Shenk, Ashley Fingarson, Kimberlee Dunlop, Timothy Evans, and Jerry Levine — has plenty of experience; the firm represents more than 20 tribal clients. But H&K won’t have the tribe all to itself — the San Manuel Band has been a client since 2002 of Ietan Consulting, a Native American-owned lobbying shop that works almost exclusively for clients with Native American casino interests. What’s the firm going to do for the tribe? Well, the registration says “federal approvals.” Neither the San Manuel tribe nor H&K immediately responded to calls about the contract, but it doesn’t seem out of the question that the work might have to do with the subject of a Copley News Service article last week on a “major embarrassment and potential scandal” at the Interior Department. The basic outline of the story is this: After Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) approved compacts with the San Manuel Band and four other tribes that would let the San Manuel Band triple the number of slot machines at its existing casino, the deal was forwarded to the Interior Department for approval — or possible rejection. Then something unusual happened: the department took no action at all, letting its 45-day review period expire, effectively abdicating the federal government’s authority in the matter. From Copley: “Somebody made a mistake; we don’t know who,” said Nedra Darling, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a branch of Interior. The San Manuel compact, one of five that Interior forgot to review, was widely considered noncontroversial, Copley reports. Not so for the others, all of which have long retained top-shelf help in Washington. The Sycuan of El Cajon is repped by Venable, the Pechanga Band of Luise�o Indians by Holland & Knight, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians by Pace LLP, and Agua Caliente of Palm Springs by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. What comes after the Copley story? In comments to the news service, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she’d review the matter. One last note of interest: The San Manuel registration date with Holland & Knight was Nov. 20 — well after the period in which their compact was up for approval had expired.
Jeff Horwitz can be contacted at [email protected].

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