Governor bets on his plan for Indian gaming
LOS ANGELES — Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggers plan to win the state a cut of Indian gambling profits while sidetracking two gambling initiatives on the November ballot is far from a safe bet, analysts said Wednesday.
Looking to ease a budget crisis, the governor has argued since last years recall campaign that casinos run by more than 50 California tribes dont pay their fair share. The governor announced Tuesday he is close to inking a deal with five tribes that would give the state more than $1 billion for his new budget and smaller amounts in later years.
But leaders of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, which owns casinos in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage, said Wednesday they intend to continue seeking passage of a ballot initiative that could undercut Schwarzeneggers proposed agreement with the other tribes.
Despite the pending agreement in Sacramento, “We are prepared to marshal our resources and move forward with the initiative,” said Richard Milanovich, chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.
At the same time, a competing initiative on the ballot — backed by card rooms and racetracks — could crack the Indian monopoly on slot machines. And its not clear where many of the states other tribes will come down — with the governor, against him or on the sidelines.
Schwarzenegger “has a split among the tribes — maybe he has a divide and conquer strategy,” said Democratic consultant Bill Carrick. “If at the end of the day hes going to go head-to-head against a relatively monolithic tribal coalition, hes going to have his hands full.”
“I see this as a chess game with high stakes,” said Bill Eadington, one of Schwarz-eneggers advisers on the negotiations. “The tribes are in a position where they have to think strategically.”
Schwarzenegger has said his deal with the five tribes is all but completed. The administration hopes to bring in as many as a dozen more tribes to the pact and is also confident Schwarzenegger can use his political muscle to defeat the ballot initiatives.
Schwarzenegger said Tuesday that his administration was negotiating with four tribes that operate casinos. On Wednesday, his administration said the compact also would cover a fifth tribe that is seeking state approval for a casino.
The tribes are the Pala Band of Mission Indians, the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians, the United Auburn Indian Community, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians and the Pauma Band of Mission Indians.
The governor formed a new political committee this week — Governor Schwarzeneggers Committee for Fair Share Gaming Agreements — to raise cash to defeat the initiatives.
“The other deals, the initiatives that are out there, will all become meaningless,” the governor vowed Tuesday.
The administration has said the proposed $1 billion from the tribes would go to transportation needs, a decision that will certainly have appeal for lawmakers looking for funding in their districts who will vote on the pact.
But getting additional tribes to negotiate with the state and give up a share of their gambling profits will not be a given. Some tribes, such as the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, say they have nothing to gain because they do not want to expand their casino operations.
Earlier this month, the Rincon Indian tribe in San Diego County filed a federal lawsuit to block the governor from striking a deal with other tribes. The tribe said the talks threaten to “destabilize tribal gaming in California” and “materially alter the states existing agreement” with Rincon and other tribes.
And even with his broad popularity and string of victories in Sacramento, winning at the ballot box is never guaranteed.
The ballot initiative sponsored by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians would open the way for a vast expansion in Indian casinos in exchange for tribes giving the state 8.8 percent of their net income — a smaller slice than sought by the governor.
Schwarzenegger has said he expects that “other tribes the big tribes, very important ones,” would fall in line.
The other ballot measure, backed by card rooms and racetracks, would tax tribes gambling revenues at 25 percent and require them to accept state laws and court jurisdiction. If any one of the 61 gambling tribes balked, the measure would let 16 racetracks and card rooms operate 30,000 slot machines, with a third of the proceeds going to state and local government programs.
A survey last month by the independent Field Poll found both measures favored by a majority of voters. In general, if two initiatives have conflicting provisions, the one with the most votes becomes law, although the issue has been contested in the courts.
Nikki Symington, spokeswoman for the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, said Viejas tribal leaders approved broad outlines of Schwarzeneggers deal Tuesday. Members were scheduled to vote on them Wednesday night.
Viejas wont support a November ballot measure sponsored by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Symington said Viejas backed a similar proposal several years ago but added, “That time came and went.”
Still, Viejas is undecided whether to actively oppose the Agua Caliente measure.
“Its pretty hard for tribes to oppose tribes,” she said.