Casino propositions evoke mixed feelings
Tribes disagree on proposals to expand state's Indian gaming
January 31, 2008 10:06 AM
With four propositions on the February ballot proposing the expansion of Indian casinos in California, there has been heightened animosity on both sides, evident through the flurry of pro and con ads.
At the heart of Propositions 94, 95, 96 and 97 are the four Southern California tribes: the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, respectively.
Propositions 94 and 95 would allow the Pechanga and Morongo tribes to add 5,500 more slot machines while Propositions 96 and 97 would let the Sycuan and Agua Caliente tribes add 3,000 more.
In exchange for the approval to add more slot machines, the tribes would give an unspecified percentage of their revenue in addition to a set annual payment to the state’s General Fund. The Pechanga tribe would pay $42.5 million, the Morongo tribe would pay $36.7 million, the Sycuan tribe would pay $20 million and the Agua Caliente tribe would pay $23.4 million.
Though unspecified on the ballot, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that the percentage of revenue going to California would approximately be between 15 and 25 percent. Previously, the tribes had been paying based on the number of slot machines.
“Altogether there will be approximately $20 billion for the state of California over the next 20 years. That means a billion dollars a year,” Schwarzenegger said at a speech in Salinas on Jan. 15 to business leaders and elected officials.
“This is very badly needed money, and this is why I have been very proud that we negotiated that,” Schwarzenegger said, suggesting that the money would be used for education, law enforcement, hospitals and transportation among other needs.
Opponents of the propositions said adding the 17,000 new slot machines would be harmful for both the state and Indian tribes.
“If you’re not a member of the four tribes, the deal is bad,” said Nick DeLuca, a spokesman for NO on Unfair Gambling Deals, also known as NO on Props 94, 95, 96, 97. So far two tribes, the Pala Band of Mission Indians and the United Auburn Indian Community, have publicly opposed the propositions.
“Essentially, there’s no transparency. The only thing the state sees is what the tribes show,” he said, adding that there is no way the state could go in and ask to see the tribes’ financial records.
DeLuca said the money resulting from the deals would go nowhere toward solving the state’s budget crisis.
“It’s a drop in the bucket. It [will be] less than half of 1 percent of the state budget,” he said. DeLuca added that the four wealthy tribes pay such low wages that their employees cannot afford health insurance and that the state has to step in to help them.
For now, he said, the opponents of the propositions are not completely against all changes to the pre-existing compacts, but that they want to return to the bargaining table.
Representatives of Yes on 94, 95, 96 and 97 did not return calls. However, according to their Web site, www.yesforcalifornia.com, at least 34 tribes have come out in support of the propositions.
Joanne Barker, the chair for SF State’s American Indian studies department, said she was unsure why the issue is on the ballot. While emphasizing that she is not aligning herself with either side of the issue, she explained that some tribes “see it as a right of their sovereignty to do that.”
The tribes are their own nations and this issue should be addressed among the tribes and the state instead of bringing it to the American public for a vote, Barker said.
“California has a deplorable history of fulfilling its legal and economic obligations to tribes,” she said, referring to legislation like Public Law 280, established in 1953, which specified that several states—including California—provide social services and emergency care for a handful of tribes.
That is why, Barker said, some tribes may be resentful and feel that the state is going to the tribes to get money now that the state has a massive deficit. The new propositions, if approved, would overturn the previous contracts approved in 2000.
In 1999, then-Gov. Gray Davis signed compacts with around 60 Indian tribes allowing each tribe to operate up to 2,000 slot machines. In 2000, Californians approved Proposition 1A also known as the Indian Self-Reliance Act, which ratified the compacts and amended the state Constitution so that the tribes could legally operate slot machines, lottery games and banked and percentage card games such as blackjack and baccarat on Indian land.
The act also created the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund, which required that all tribes with over 350 slot machines pay a percentage of their revenue to non-gaming tribes or tribes with fewer than 350 machines. The trust fund would still be in effect whether or not Propositions 94, 95, 96 and 97 pass.
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