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Cal tribes vow to support poor ones

Feb 19, 2008 6:02 AM

California tribal leaders vowed last week the state’s less fortunate tribes get their share of Indian gambling profits, which should increase with the addition of 17,000 new slot machines.

The pledges came on the heels of an election battle in which opponents to tribal gaming expansion claimed poor tribes would no longer get the $1.1 million in casino profits that each is supposed to get.

The chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, which held its annual conference in Palm Springs, told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that he is confident the tribes will continue to get the full amount.

"Even in negotiations, tribes were adamant to keep" the money coming, said Anthony Miranda, who also is a member of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians near Temecula. "We’ll still continue to do that."

At issue are four casino-expansion deals, which voters approved Feb. 5, that could affect how much money goes to tribes that do not operate casinos. The Pechanga band and three other Southern California tribes negotiated tribal-state gambling agreements that allow them to add a combined total of 17,000 slot machines in exchange for giving money to the state’s general fund.

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians, with a casino near Banning; the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, with two casinos in the Coachella Valley; and the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Indians, with a San Diego County casino, signed the other agreements.

The new agreements end payments to a fund that has helped supplement the gambling-profits checks the poor tribes receive. Gaming-tribe leaders said they will work with the Legislature to see that the poor tribes continue to receive their full checks, with any shortfall coming from the general fund.

That pledge has some non-gaming-tribe leaders nervous, given the competing demands for money from the state’s general fund in a tight budget year and economic downturn.

Nelson Pinola, chairman of the Manchester-Point Arena Band of Pomo Indians in Mendocino County, said Agua Caliente Chairman Richard Milanovich promised to work with state lawmakers to get the money for the poor tribes. Pinola said he takes Milanovich at his word but remains worried.

"We’re just tribes, and we would like for the Legislature to work this out," said Pinola, who campaigned against the four casino deals because of his concerns. "However, if he can’t get the legislative folks to agree to this, we will be left out in the cold."

Pinola, whose Mendocino County tribe doesn’t have a casino, said he has 1,000 members who struggle with housing shortages, electricity and heating problems and other poverty issues. His people rely on that $1.1 million every year, he said. Homes are overcrowded, with some family members sleeping on the floor, he said.

Pinola’s tribe is a member of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association.

Pinola spoke out extensively in recent weeks against the four casino-expansion deals and was hired by the opposition campaign. Although he was criticized for it, Pinola said he would do it again. He said, however, that he never meant to hurt any fellow tribal leaders and hopes to mend the splintered relationships.

Milanovich said it was painful to hear tribes attacking other tribes, calling the opposition campaign "liars."