The battle over a proposed $1.2 billion hotel-casino resort on a stretch of Richmond's waterfront is heating up as the project inches closer to a vote.

Richmond leaders have extended the closing date on the city's $50 million deal to sell the old Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot to a developer, giving the parties more time to negotiate changes. The deal was to expire March 15; it now ends April 20.

"There are a lot of issues out there. None of them to me seem to be insolvable," said City Councilman Tom Butt, who is seeking a commitment to keep historic buildings in tact, among other issues.

Meanwhile, the card club-backed Stop the Mega Casino is spending $33,900 to defeat the resort.

Its eight-page mailer, which began arriving in mailboxes Saturday, depicts a gritty Richmond and suggests drug dealing, loan sharking, poverty and crime will become permanent fixtures if a casino opens at Point Molate. It urges locals to call the City Council to tell them to say no to a casino.

A 30-second television ad that mimics the mailer's style also aired over the weekend.

Stop the Mega Casino is working with Whitehurst/Mosher Campaign Strategy and Media in San Francisco, according to an expenditure report filed with the city clerk's office. The group represents 12 medium and small card clubs statewide concerned about competition from Las Vegas-style casinos; six more clubs might join the coalition. The clubs declined through Whitehurst to identify themselves or be interview, though a Whitehurst spokesman said the clubs include The Oaks in Emeryville.

"This is kind of mom and pop vs. Walmart," said David Fried, spokesman for Stop the Mega Casino. "Absolutely Richmond needs jobs and not just Richmond. The question is what kind of development, what kind of jobs and when? I'm not sure if (the casino plan) will ever get federal entitlements for the project and if they did, it would be years away."

Some residents are upset about the mailer's unflattering portrait of their city. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Vice Mayor Jeff Ritterman, whose pictures and quotes from news articles appear in the mailer, told angry residents Tuesday that they had nothing to do with the piece; Fried confirmed that neither was involved, nor was state Sen. Loni Hancock or Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, who also appear in the mailer.

Jim Levine of Upstream Point Molate, the developer pitching the resort, acknowledged the mailer and TV ads mark the start of an election-year battle over his project. But Levine said their message ignores 17,000 direct and indirect jobs that the casino resort promises, with agreements for mostly local jobs and training programs to help fill them. Levine dismissed the ads' claim that the project would only burnish the city's struggles with drugs, crime and poverty.

"If the card clubs operated there that would be the case, because they don't really do anything for the community," Levine said. "They can waste their money doing whatever they want. It's pretty transparent. They haven't shown any concern for Richmond over the past 50 years. They're not showing any concern for it now."

The proposed hotel-casino resort would host 124,000 square feet of gaming, a conference center, nearly 1,100 hotel rooms, restaurants, shops, tribal headquarters, a shoreline park, trails and ferry service. Upstream and the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians, with the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation as an investor, are seeking federal, state and local approvals to build it.

In a Feb. 25 letter to the city, Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation's tribal corporation states it will provide $.3.8 million over the next year to cover project expenses. It will also provide $5 million and post a letter of credit to secure a $30 million note to complete payments under the land-sale agreement, if the project wins federal and other necessary approvals.

The city would receive at least $16.6 million annually under a 20-year agreement with Upstream.

This is the second extension of the closing date. The deal was initially set to expire in January, but officials postponed it to March 15 and now to next month. Progress has been made in recent negotiations, Butt said.

Additional extensions that would push the closing date to later this year -- and squarely into the council election season -- are likely if officials want this project. The city hasn't distributed responses to public comments on the draft environmental impact report or voted to certify the document. Both are required as a condition of closing.

At Tuesday's council meeting, union workers wearing green "Support the Resort at Point Molate" T-shirts urged officials to approve projects that offer employment.

"Richmond needs jobs something to give hope to people in Richmond that will generate jobs," resident Ricky Jackson said.

Opponents fear the project is a pipe dream that won't produce as many jobs for locals as promised. Officials should let the land-sale agreement expire and study other options, they said.

"It is time to let this go," said resident Joan Garrett, a member of Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate.

Staff writer John Simerman contributed to this report. Katherine Tam covers Richmond. Follow her at Twitter.com/katherinetam.

ONLINE
To view the eight-page mailer and television ad, go to ContraCosta-Times.com/richmond and click on this story.