Tribes take greed to new depths

April 01, 2008 7:00 PM
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Native Niche by By GT Staff | Several powerful gaming tribes in California are threatening to withhold millions of dollars they pay to the state because charities and other organizations are generating income through electronic bingo machines.

The tribes are claiming that they and they alone, have a monopoly on electronic gaming devices in the state, even though the amount of money generated by charities is a fraction of what tribal casinos rake in.

At issue is a clause in most tribal compacts that give the tribal casino the exclusive right to operate electronic gaming devices – slot machines – and any violation of the terms of the compact would allow them to suspend payments to the state.

For the powerful United Auburn band of suburban Sacramento, that sum reached over $30 million annually.

The Auburn band has put the Schwarzenegger administration on notice that it believes the charitable bingo machines operated by charities such as Sacramento’s WIND Youth Services are illegal and thus grounds for withholding payment to the state.

WIND provides food, shelter and other help to homeless and underprivileged youths. The charity took in $130,000 last year from its bingo operation, about 10 percent of its annual budget.

Schwarzenegger’s administration has taken the position that bingo machines are not slot machines, and thus the compacts have not been compromised.

Based on a report from an independent consultant, "the state has determined that there is no violation of the compacts" arising from electronic bingo machines, said Sabrina Lockhart, a spokesperson for the governor.

California’s attorney general seems to agree.

Sara Drake, a supervising deputy attorney general who specializes in tribal gaming law, said electronic bingo machines would violate the compacts’ exclusivity clause only if they are determined to be Class III slot machines.

"There is a distinction between a slot machine and an illegal gambling device," Drake said. "So they could be illegal gambling devices and not be slot machines."

An attorney for the United Auburn and Pala tribes says the distinction doesn’t matter.

Howard Dickstein said the gaming compacts broadly define a gaming device "as any electronic or video device on which a game is played" for a chance to win something.

Electronic bingo "clearly fits the definition," Dickstein said.

Pending legislation has been crafted to help charities preserve their bingo income. A bill authored by state Senator Darrell Steinberg is expected to be introduced soon.

"We want to make sure that WIND and other great organizations like this can maintain their dollars somehow," said Kathy Dresslar, Steinberg’s chief of staff.

Slots springing up
like sunflowers

It didn’t take long for California tribal casinos to begin installing thousands of new slot machines in the wake of voter approval last February.

Voters approved the addition of 17,000 slot machines for four Southern California casinos, which previously had a ceiling of 2,000 slots at each.

A fifth tribe – the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians – was approved for 5,500 new slot machines, of which, 1,500 have already been added to their previous total of 2,000.

Here’s a tally of new slots:

• Morongo Casino Resort is now operating 2,910 machines, with another 500 slots earmarked over the next few months.

• Pechanga Resort & Casino has 1,300 new machines in place, to go with its previous total of 2,000, of which 500 are Class II slots that are being converted to Class III.

• Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is adding 3,000 new machines to its 2,000, which was split between two casinos. The tribe is opening a third casino in Palm Springs, which will put an additional 1,900 slots on line by mid-April.

Santa Ana Star wins marketing award

The Santa Ana Star Casino of New Mexico recently received the Marketer of the Year award in the Integrated Marketing Campaign category for its "This is MY Casino" marketing campaign awarded by the New Mexico Chapter of the American Marketing Association (NMAMA).

"As the first and only casino in New Mexico to receive this honor, Santa Ana Star Casino is thrilled to be named a Marketer of the Year for 2007," said Scott Eldredge, director of marketing for Santa Ana Star Casino. "It’s the company’s goal to make our guests feel at home when they are enjoying themselves at the casino. In fact, all of our employees strive to embody the words ‘This is MY Casino’ from our award-winning marketing campaign. We feel this commitment to our guests’ needs truly makes a difference in their experience at Santa Ana Star Casino."

Santa Ana Star Casino launched the "This is MY Casino" campaign to differentiate itself from the other casinos in the Albuquerque, Bernalillo, and Rio Rancho markets and to increase revenue without relying solely on its monthly promotions.

The campaign was designed to clearly define Santa Ana Star Casino as the only casino in the Albuquerque, Bernalillo, and Rio Rancho area dedicated to the needs of the local community. The campaign was designed to make guests feel that it’s their personal casino every time they play at Santa Ana Star Casino. The integrated marketing campaign was implemented by Esparza Advertising, based in Albuquerque.