Tribes back Arnold

Jan 23, 2007 5:36 AM

A handful of gambling agreements that could generate as much as $20 billion for the state of California, including $500 million this year, should be renegotiated, a top legislative Democrat said last week at a tribal gambling conference.

The agreements would allow tribes, including the Pechanga Band of Mission Indians in Southwest Riverside County and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm Springs, to add more slot machines to their gambling floors in exchange for large contributions to the state’s coffers.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who included the estimated $500 million in casino revenues in his budget proposal, signed the agreements last year just days before the end of the legislative session. None were ratified by the Legislature because of questions on labor provisions from some Democrats and opposition from some labor unions.

Schwarzenegger said revenue from the agreements would help balance the state budget for the first time in years.

Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont, and chairman of the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee, said at the conference he had a number of questions on the terms of the compacts, including environmental and labor provisions.

"I think he (the governor) has the burden to go back and renegotiate those compacts, and to assure that they’re negotiated in a fashion that will be to the satisfaction of the state Assembly," Torrico said.

Torrico was a panelist at a workshop held during the annual Western Indian Gambling Conference at the Pechanga Resort and Casino. The conference attracted more than 600 people, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who spoke during opening ceremonies.

Speaking to reporters in Sacramento on Wednesday, Schwarzenegger said there was no need to renegotiate the gambling agreements and cautioned lawmakers that the state’s financial picture would worsen without the compacts.

"If they don’t (ratify the compacts), it means that they are falling short a lot of money," the governor said. "And that money is going to some very important programs. We’re talking about $500 million. We’re talking about $20 billion over the course of the compacts. So, we’re losing a lot of money if they don’t."

State Sen. Dean Flores, D-Shafter, who attended the gambling conference, said he was in favor of the compacts — if they deliver the money that the governor said they would.

Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro said his tribe’s compact provides protections for workers, including the right to unionize, and benefits the state.

"We hope that the Legislature will carefully consider the merits of the compact and the benefits it will provide workers, local communities and California," he said.

Last year, the Assembly defeated an agreement that would have allowed the Agua Caliente Band to add 3,000 slot machines and open a third casino. It would have paid the state up to $1.8 billion during the life of the deal but was opposed by labor groups because it removed a method to recognize when workers want to start a union.

Labor groups cheered the defeat of the Agua Caliente compact, saying it should send a clear message to tribes they must better protect workers and the environment.

Lobbyists for the state’s horse racing industry also opposed the compacts because some of them include clauses that could complicate the efforts of track owners to expand gambling at their casinos.

Schwarzenegger announced five deals last year. They would allow nearly 20,000 new slot machines on Indian reservations, mostly in Southern California, if the Legislature approved them.