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Cal. voters OK more gaming

Jun 15, 2004 5:34 AM

If it means more tax revenue, Californians are in favor of expanding existing gambling establishments.

That was the interpretation given last week in a recent survey of likely voters relative to a pair of competing gambling initiatives that will be appearing on the November ballot.

The first proposal would lift limits on the number of slot machines and other games that are now being offered at California Indian casinos. By law, the casinos are prevented from operating more than 2,000 machines. The initiative is being sponsored by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, reportedly one of the most successful casino operators in the state.

A competing ballot measure is being backed by the card rooms and racetracks. It specifies that Indian casinos must pay the state 25% of their gaming revenue and must accept and adhere to state laws and court jurisdictions. If just one of the 61 Indian casino operators balks at the requirements, then the racetracks and card rooms could install a total of 30,000 slot machines with one-third of their proceeds to be turned over to state and local governments.

When polled during mid-May, the 388 registered voters approved the Indian ballot measure by 53% to 30% with 17% undecided. The racetrack and card room referendum received the approval of 57% of the voters while 26% were opposed. Again, 17% were undecided.

Since California tribes were given a monopoly on slot machines in a strongly-favored Proposition vote four years ago, Indian gaming has prospered far beyond what was anticipated when the subject was first discussed by lawmakers. The growing success of the casinos has triggered some opposition from those who argue that the tribes are not paying their fair share from the gaming revenues.

One of the arguments used last year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his recall election was that he would negotiate with the casino operators for a percentage of their take. Those discussions reportedly have been ongoing for several months with no resolution achieved. Yet, he has not favored either initiative, the success of one or both would make his negotiations moot.