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Arnold, Family can’t stop
gaming ‘religion’

Sep 21, 2004 9:19 AM

California’s five racetracks and 11 card clubs, inspired not so much by courage as a desire to survive, last week took on the Âí­Terminator.

Just how many millions they are committing to their battle was a matter of wildly diverse speculation in the press, but whatever the number — whether in the low millions or high millions — it started with a media blitz intended to gain passage of Proposition 68, which if passed could give them 30,000 slot machines to carve up among themselves.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants Proposition 68 defeated. It would require all Indian casinos to pay 25 percent of slot winnings to the state, cleverly earmarked for local law enforcement, fire protection and children’s programs, for added public appeal. If any tribe demurred from the plan, and if all did not approve the idea within 90 days, the tracks and card clubs would shatter the current Indian monopoly on slots and be able to install them as well.

Schwarzenegger probably could accept Proposition 70 instead, which offers Indian tribes unlimited slots and Vegas-style gaming for 99 years if they agree to pay the state an 8.84 percent corporate tax on their operations. But in his secret Terminator heart, he almost certainly would like to see both propositions fail and his pact-making powers preserved.

The 16 tracks and card clubs face formidable opposition, not only from Schwarzenegger but from firemen, police, labor, educators and — most formidably of all — the Indians. The tribes now are rich and powerful, and they are not going to give ground without spending very big bucks to defeat Proposition 68. The track and card club cavalry are not going to intimidate them. They have come a long, hard way from Wounded Knee.

The public might vote "no" on both propositions, and leave in place the present system in which the governor can craft pacts with individual tribes, as he did earlier this year in granting lucrative deals to five of them in return for increased taxes to the state.

The tracks, for their part, are resolute. Rick Baedeker, the president of Hollywood Park, said last week, "We’re determined to fight now. We don’t have a choice. We’re in a position where we have to do everything we can to survive."

The track and card club coalition went so far as to file a lawsuit against Schwarzenegger and the state, contending the pacts he made last spring are illegal. Those pacts were passed under urgency clauses, and the tracks and clubs say the California constitution "cannot grant any franchise or special privileges or create any vested right" under those clauses.

The courts will decide that issue. Meanwhile, Dr. James Dobson and his "Focus on the Family" are being loud and strident as usual. Their analysts have come up with some interesting contentions. They cite sources but their interpretations of the source material are highly questionable.

They claim, for example, that "you could fill San Diego Qualcomm Stadium 24 times with the pathological and problem gamblers" in California. There is no mention of how many times you could fill it with pathological and problem analysts.

They contend that crime rates are 84 percent higher in casino communities than the national average, which of course takes in such placid and peaceful pools of culture as Bryn Mawn, Pa., and Lake Forest, Ill. And Pahrump. But a city like Philadelphia, with millions more people, is not "a casino community" — Âí­although it soon will be — and we doubt seriously if crime in Las Vegas is 84 percent higher — or even 8.4 percent higher — than Philadelphia. Or Boston. Or Miami. Or you name it among cities as big as Âí­Vegas. As for Vegas, we do not see the citizens quaking with fear walking its slot-lined streets.

There is one interesting statistic that Focus on the Family does not focus on, the one showing that 61 percent of the church-going population in the United States thinks gambling is "morally acceptable."

That’s consoling, particularly if you live in Vegas.

Happiness seems prevalent here, and is likely to remain so — as it will with the neighbors to the golden west — regardless of how Propositions 68 and 70 turn out in November, or how loudly Dr. Dobson yells.