Tribes on hold!

Sep 5, 2006 8:48 AM

Some of the wealthiest, most powerful tribes in California gaming suffered a setback last week when lawmakers refused to ratify the new compacts negotiated by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The new deals came to the legislature with only days to spare, so perhaps it’s no surprise that lawmakers declined to push them through. The delay signals a win for organized labor, whose proponents lobbied intensely for more worker protections. Unions wanted to guarantee their right to organize, because state and federal laws do not always apply on Indian reservations.

What would have been the single largest expansion of California Indian gaming now must wait for the next legislative session in January. The compacts, for a total of five tribes, would allow the addition of up to 22,500 slot machines and could net the state nearly $22 billion over the next 24 years.

The new compact for the Sycuan of San Diego County would allow the tribe to add up to 3,000 more slot machines to its casino near El Cajon. The fifth tribe to sign a new deal with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Sycuan band agreed to a revenue share of 15 percent on the additional 3,000 slots. The band will continue to pay about 10 percent on the 2,000 slots it already operates, which puts $20 million a year into state coffers. The extended compact runs to the year 2030.

"We’ll just regroup and come back in December," Sycuan Chairman Danny Tucker said of the setback, according to Copley News Service. "Something’s going to happen, whether it be now or later.

The Pechanga band of Temecula, Morongo of Riverside County and San Manuel of San Bernardino County all signed new agreements that allow each tribe up to 7,500 slot machines. In exchange, the tribes agreed to higher revenue sharing with the state””something Schwarzenegger has wanted all along.

Annually, Pechanga would pay $42.5 million and San Manuel would pay $45 million for their existing 2,000 slots. Additional machines up to 5,000 have a revenue sharing tab of 15 percent, and from 5001 to 7,500, 25 percent. Revenues would be funneled directly into the state’s General Fund.

While the Pechanga and San Manuel would no longer be paying into the Special Distribution Fund, the tribes have each agreed to put $2 million a year into the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund, which distributes money to non-gaming tribes or those with small gaming operations of under 350 slot machines. In a press release, Pechanga officials were quick to point out that under their new compact, employees have the right to choose or reject union representation.

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians, which operates the Morongo Casino Resort and Spa on its reservation in Cabazon, signed a similar deal, with a combination of a flat fee and revenue sharing.

Cheryl Schmit of the anti-gaming group Stand Up for California was glad to see the delay in approving the compacts. "We’re turning millionaires into billionaires, making them even more politically powerful and giving them even more influence over our elected officials." Copley News Service reported.

Additionally, an agreement with the Yurok tribe of Northern California for 99 slot machines is also on the shelf.

And the Los Coyotes of San Diego County and Big Lagoon of Humboldt County--who fasted for days on Capitol grounds to get their point across””were also denied a vote on their new compacts.

Lawmakers did vote on two compacts. The new deal for the Agua Caliente of Palm Springs fell six votes short of ratification, and a compact for the Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation of Imperial County and Yuma, Ariz. received overwhelming approval. The tribe will be allowed to operate up to 1,100 slots.