Cal tribes bet on casino expansion

Feb 13, 2008 2:31 AM

Staff & wire reports | Last week’s ballot victory by four California tribes to add up to 17,000 slot machines has inspired other Indian tribes to seek approval of new casinos.

They are also enthused by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s public statements that he is ready to deal on new gambling agreements with additional tribes that agree to pay a "fair share" of casino revenue into the state’s general fund.

Among the first in line may be the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeño Indians of San Diego County. The tribe has fought unsuccessfully for nearly three years to get a casino in Barstow.

Now the tribe and wealthy backers, including Marian Ilitch, Detroit Red Wings and MotorCity Casino owner, are eager for another appointment with Schwarzenegger.

"We will attempt to go back and renegotiate with the governor and go to the Legislature and say the people obviously support an expansion of gambling if it will provide revenues to the state," Tom Shields, spokesman for Los Coyotes and the Barstow casino group, BarWest Gaming told the Sacramento Bee. "We are more than willing to be a part of that."

The governor signed controversial 2005 gambling agreements that would have allowed Los Coyotes and the Big Lagoon tribe – 700 miles away in Mendocino County – to build 2,000-slot casinos in Barstow. Opposition from major Southern California casino tribes helped kill the deal in the Legislature and, politically, the Barstow development remains problematic.

Yet the passage of the four gambling compacts – and the governor’s invitation to negotiate more – may signal only the start of a major gambling boom.

The day after the measures passed by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin, the governor advertised his terms. He noted the 15 percent to 25 percent of new slot machine revenue the state will get from the four Southern California gambling deals. The four tribes also will begin paying $20 million to $42.5 million a year each to the state – 10 percent of revenue on their existing 2,000 slots.

"I think there are many tribes that want to negotiate," said Schwarzenegger, who wouldn’t identify additional tribes in talks with the state. "There are many of them that did not want to pay the amount we requested. …So now they will come back."

The suitors may come from 57 tribes that signed 1999 gambling agreements that allowed them to operate up to 2,000 slot machine each – a level that only a fraction reached. Six tribes – including United Auburn – got amended casino deals in 2004 that allowed them unlimited slot machines.