There is a pitched, old-time Wild West battle raging 500 miles southeast
of Las Vegas, and this time around a lot of people are rooting for the Indians.
There is heavy wampum at stake, and
perhaps even a governorship.
Arizona is battling over Indian
gaming, or rather an expansion of it to the state’s horse and dog tracks, who
want in on the act. This time it is the Indians who have formed the wagons in a
circle, and they have newfound casino money to spend on the fight.
They have spent a lot of it. Just
under $21 million from 17 Arizona tribes who have formed a coalition to support
Proposition 202, which directs the governor to approve new tribal gaming
compacts, allots each tribe between one and four gaming facilities including
between 475 and 1,400 slot machines and 75 — 100 card tables, and provides
that between 1% and 8% of the tribes’ gross income goes to fund statewide
Those programs are apple pie and
motherhood, hard to argue against. They
include classroom size reduction, teacher salary increases, reading and dropout
prevention, trauma and emergency services, wildlife conservation, problem
gambling and tourism, and general funds for cities, towns and counties.
That’s a pretty big bag of goodies,
and shortly before election day 45% of voters favored Proposition 202, 41%
opposed it, and 14% weren’t sure how they would vote.
There also was Proposition 200,
another Indian-backed measure, this one supported by the Colorado River Indian
Tribes, a single tribe in western Arizona that put up $10 million to support its
idea, which also calls for the governor to approve new tribal gaming compacts.
Under it, each tribe would get three gaming facilities with 1,000 to 1,400 slots
and 20 gaming tables at each facility, with 3% of the tribes’ net income going
to fund programs for non-tribal and tribal community college and university
scholarships and elderly healthy care. A few days before election day, it was
doomed, with only 13% of voters favoring it, 71% opposing it, and 16% undecided.
And then there was the racetracks’
measure, Proposition 201, which would permit horse and dog tracks to operate up
to 10 facilities statewide with 550-950 machines each, and each Indian tribe to
have 1 — 3 facilities with between 600 and 2,400 slots and 50 — 75 card
tables. The tracks would pay 40% of gross revenue and the tribes 8% of gross to
the state general fund and to programs for kindergarten to grade 3 reading,
prescription medicines for seniors, rural health care, city and town police,
fire and emergency services, college scholarships, problem gaming and tourism.
It was in trouble too, with only 14% favoring it, 70% opposed, and 16% undecided
in an Arizona Republic poll.
The catch is that for any of the three
propositions to pass, it needed 50% plus 1 vote of the total votes cast. If none
of the three passed — a possibility — the issue goes back to the governor
and legislature, and perhaps to the courts.
To give an idea of what kind of
dollars these three propositions have generated, consider these numbers reported
in the Arizona Republic.
Through October 21, $106 million has
been raised nationally for 62 ballot propositions, most of them in western
states. More than a third of that national amount — $37.3 million — has gone
into the campaigns for the three Arizona propositions involving Indian gaming.
That’s more than has been spent on
seven ballot items in California, and more than has been spent in Washington,
Oregon or Michigan, according to the Ballot Iniative Strategy Foundation in
Boston, which tracks such things.
Because 10% of votes in Arizona are
Indian votes, the issue very well could decide the gubernatorial race between
Democrat Janet Napolitano and Republican Matt Salmon as well as who gets slots.
The 17-tribe coalition increased
spending efforts in the final days before Tuesday’s election.
Not since Custer and the Little Big Horn have the Indians appeared so
strong, and many think they’re entitled to the spoils of victory.