Agua pact hits a snag at Capitol

Aug 22, 2006 4:08 AM

After the announcement last week of a new compact between California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the deal hit a snag with the Senate Governmental Organization committee in Sacramento.

In a five-and-a-half-hour meeting that resulted in no vote, legislators lobbed questions at Agua Caliente tribal chairman Richard Milanovich. Lawmakers expressed concern over a slot machine exclusivity clause in the new compact.

With the horse racing industry pushing for a constitutional amendment to allow Class III slot machines, the provision may well be stripped from the tribe’s new compact before it’s approved.

In addition, the California Labor Association has asked for an amendment to further protect worker’s rights. Milanovich has addressed this issue in the past, and reassured the committee that the labor relations ordinance in its 1999 compact was fair and remains unchanged.

Once ratified, the new compact would allow the tribe to operate up to 5,000 slot machines and to build a third casino. With more than $23 million annually going into the state’s General Fund on the tribe’s current 2,000 slots, the new compact calculates net revenue of nearly $2 billion for the state through 2030.

The tribe expects to complete a $210 million hotel expansion at the Agua Caliente Casino near Rancho Mirage in January 2008, followed by a remodeling of the Spa Resort Hotel. A third casino isn’t likely to be in the works until at least 2013, according to Milanovich.

The Senate committee is expected to vote soon on the new compact ratification.

What about us?

Meanwhile, the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians have staged a fast on the Capitol lawn in hopes of seeing their own compact ratified.

Compacts for the Los Coyotes and the Big Lagoon Rancheria Indians, who are fighting to build side-by-side casinos in Barstow, have gone nowhere. In June, the State Assembly Government Organization Committee voted 7-0 to turn down the tribes’ compact.

"We’re not here to oppose the Agua Caliente compact amendments," Los Coyotes council member Kevin Siva told The Desert Dispatch.

A press release from the band stated, "our aim is to call attention to the economic injustice of our people and to urge the legislatures to ratify these compacts that will uplift the living conditions of our people."

Tribal public relations agent Tom Shields said that, because no one is allowed on the Capitol grounds at night, the fast would take place from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day until the compacts get approved.

Mashantucket Sues Town

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Atlantic City Coin and Slot Service Co. are suing the town of Ledyard, Connecticut for taxes collected on slot machines at Foxwoods Resort Casino, The New London Day reported.

Since 2003, the tribe has paid property taxes on some 500 slot machines that it leases from four different vendors, including 95 machines leased from Atlantic City Coin of New Jersey. The town has assessed nearly $11,000 in property taxes on those machines for just last year alone. This does not include the taxes on machines leased from other vendors.

The lawsuit states that, according to IGRA, it is illegal for the town to collect taxes on slots that the tribe leases from a third party. The suit claims the taxation violates the tribe’s sovereignty and that the tribe "will suffer direct, serious and irreparable injury and economic loss if the leased gaming machines are subject to local property tax."

Although the town of Ledyard has not issued an official response yet, tax assessor Paul Hopkins noted that according to state law, the Mashantuckets are tax-exempt from property located on their reservation, but are not exempt from taxes on leased property.