Tribes up ante in compact vote

Dec 11, 2007 6:31 AM

Although the presidential primary is the main attraction on the Feb. 5 ballot, Californians will also decide whether or not to nullify Indian gambling compacts passed this year by the Legislature.

Those compacts were also approved by the National Indian Gaming Commission, though it’s unclear whether a statewide vote would against them would rescind the compacts.

Nonetheless, the measures known as Propositions 94, 95, 96 and 97 have been generated more than $30 million in campaign expenditures by the four affected tribes.

The L.A. Times reports that the tribes plan to spend an additional $10 million in the lead-up to the election.

The measures were put on the ballot by opponents of the four compacts. If a majority of voters say no, the Legislature’s approval of the compacts will be rescinded.

The deals, which the Schwarzenegger administration negotiated with the tribes last year, allow the groups in Riverside and San Diego counties to add 17,000 slot machines to the 8,000 they currently operate. In turn, the tribes agreed to pay the state 15% to 25% of the profits from the additional machines.

The measures were put on the ballot by an unusual coalition, including the hotel workers union Unite Here, which argues that the accords lack worker protections and stymie organizing efforts. Other members are two tribes that say the compacts are more generous than deals they received, and the company that owns two horse racetracks, including Hollywood Park in Inglewood. The firm says it has lost customers to the tribal casinos.

"Each of these entities is looking for fairness — fairness for other tribes, fairness for workers. The racetracks are looking for fair competition," Cheryl Schmit, a paid consultant for the campaign against the compacts, told the L.A. Times. "These compacts give four tribes one-third of the state’s gaming revenue in a state with 108 [federally recognized] tribes."

Roger Salazar, representing supporters of the compacts, said the agreements maintain the rights of workers to organize.

Proponents argue that California is in the midst of a budget crisis, with a potential deficit of $10 billion looming next year, and revenue from the compacts would help pay for services.

Estimates of how much money the compacts could bring the state during their 23-year life span vary widely, with some supporters estimating at least $9 billion and others more than double that amount.

Citing the financial benefit to the state, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell signed the ballot argument in favor of the measures.

"It is very important that the people are in favor of our compacts, because we again have a financially difficult time in California," Schwarzenegger said last week at a Capitol news conference. "This money is extremely important to the future of California. I am very happy that the Indian gaming tribes came forward and understand that to contribute to our state is good for them and its good for education, for law enforcement for fire [services], for all the different causes."

The tribes whose compacts would be affirmed or nullified by the measures are the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians in Temecula; the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, which has a casino along Interstate 10 near Banning; the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation near El Cajon; and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, which owns casinos in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage.

 The hotel workers union and racetracks have raised a total of $4.2 million to defeat the measure. An additional $1 million combined has come from the United Auburn Indian Community near Sacramento and the Pala Band of Mission Indians in northern San Diego County, both of which operate casinos that compete with those named in the compacts.