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Cal casino vote hits federal snag

Dec 4, 2007 7:15 AM

A statewide vote on the expansion of gambling at four Southern California Indian casinos has potentially been short-circuited by a federal government decision, according to a San Diego newspaper.

Requests to dramatically increase the amount and types of gambling at the four reservation casinos was to be decided by California voters in the Feb. 5 state primary election, when four initiatives are on the ballot.

But the San Diego Union-Tribune has learned that the U.S. Interior Department has suddenly ratified compacts between the state government and the tribes, possibly making the February votes moot.

Attorneys for other tribes, and for union groups that have opposed the additional gambling, say they were surprised by the Bush Administration’s decision to ratify the gambling compacts before California voters could make a decision on them.

Wealthy tribes seeking casino expansions are locked in a bitter battle with casino-less tribes, and unions that have been frozen out of casino contracts. As much as $30 million has been raised to flood the state’s TV stations with pro- and anti-gambling commercials.

The compacts are proposed agreements between California and the Sycuan tribe near San Diego, the Pechanga Indians near Temecula, and the Morongo and Agua Caliente tribes near Palm Springs.

Although approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, the other tribes and unions have been trying to derail the proposed compact at the ballot box, using California’s initiative system.

That vote may now be moot, but backers of the initiative told the San Diego paper that the election should still be conducted, because the state Constitution gives voters the right to make the decision.