California Tribal Gaming Compacts (2008)

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The California Tribal Gaming Compacts are agreements between the government of California and four Native American tribes-- the Pechanga, Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Under the agreements, in exchange for giving the state government a higher percentage of their gross slot machine revenues than they currently do, the tribes are being allowed to install a total of 17,000 additional slot machines in the casinos they already operate.

All four measures were approved by California's voters on February 5, 2008.[1]

The agreements were approved by the California State Legislature and signed into law by Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2007. The agreements, endorsed by California's voters on February 5, 2008, will last for 23 years.

Opponents of the four tribal gaming compacts are challenging each of them through the veto referendum process whereby California voters can nullify an act of the state legislature by collecting enough signatures to force new laws onto the ballot. Four successful petition drives and several court challenges later, each of the four gaming compacts will individually appear on the February 5, 2008 California special presidential primary election ballot--Propositions 94, 95, 96 and 97.

Money pours into support the tribal compacts

The four tribes that stand to benefit from the compacts poured nearly $110 million[2] into the Coalition to Protect California's Budget & Economy, which is the political committee supporting passage of the compacts. The tribes are required to submit their campaign finance activity because of a lawsuit stemming from 2001 and 2007 by the Fair Political Practices Commission which resulted in a settlement that the tribes would not be penalized if they agreed to publish the activity from then on.[3]

Tribe Proposition it benefits from Donations
Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians Prop 94 $41,896,993
Morongo Band of Mission Indians Prop 95 $37,875,177
Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation Prop 96 $6,031,637
Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Prop 97 $20,865,025
Total from the four tribes: $106,668,832

1999 compacts versus proposed changes

Tribe Referendum Authorizing statute $ to state
under 1999 compact
# of slots
under 1999 compact
Minimum $ to state
under new compact
# of slots
under new compact
Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians Prop 94 SB 903 $29 million 2,000 $44.5 million 7,500
Morongo Band of Mission Indians Prop 95 SB 174 $29 million 2,000 $38.7 million 7,500
Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation Prop 96 SB 175 $5 million 2,000 $23 million 5,000
Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Prop 97 SB 957 $13 million 2,000 $25.4 million 5,000
Totals - - $76 million 8,000 $131.6 25,000

Labor unions and other tribes

An additional factor that plays a large role in the political landscape surrounding the tribal gaming compacts has to do with labor union contracts under the gaming compacts. Some of the traditional unions in California oppose the gaming compacts because they believe that unions get an unfair shake under the tribal compacts.

The leading sponsor of the veto referenda that are challenging the gaming compacts is Jack Gribbon of the UNITE-HERE Coalition, representing unions who are angered that the four tribes who will benefit from this expansion of gambling refused the collective bargaining terms discussed with Governor Schwarzenegger during the compact negotiations.[4],[5]

Other opponents of the gaming compacts include rival tribes and teachers associations, organized into the group Californians Against Unfair Deals.[6],[7]

Arguments against the compacts

The official opponents website gives the following reasons to oppose the compacts:[8]

  • Fail to include clear and fair revenue sharing plans
  • The deals would make California home to some of the largest casinos in the world, with more than twice as many slot machines as the big Vegas casinos.
  • One third of the state's gaming business would be given to 4 of 108 tribes and could economically devastate smaller tribes
  • The new compacts fail to let communities protest over the possible environmental impact on the area
  • The 4 tribes who benefit from the gaming compacts have a history of denying affordable health care to their employees.
  • The deals let the "Big 4" tribes manipulate the “revenue sharing formula” and underpay the state.

Other opposition to the gaming compacts

Marty Hittelman, president of the California Federation of Teachers, John Gomez of the American Indian Rights and Resources Organization, Residents Against Gaming Expansion and Lenny Goldberg of the California Tax Reform Association have announced their opposition.

Supporters of the compacts

The four tribes who were able to expand their existing casinos with many additional slot machines and Arnold Schwarzenegger were the leading proponents of the measure. Other supporters included the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, California Chamber of Peace Officers Research Association of California, representing 60,000 police and sheriff officers, California State Conference of the NAACP and California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.

The tribes organized under the Yes for California Coalition to promote the compacts.

The Coalitions argue that the new compacts will:

  • Raise $200 million the first year (with revenues increasing significantly in future years) and an estimated $9 billion over the next two decades to help balance the budget and pay for schools, roads and bridges, public safety and health care
  • Create thousands of new jobs
  • Strengthen environment and employee protections

The tribes went to court twice in an attempt to have a judge remove the measures from the ballot. They contended that the propositions didn't include all the compact language and violated the state constitution's stance on state tax levies.[9]

Public opinion polls

See also Polls, 2008 ballot measures
Date of Poll Polling company In favor Opposed Undecided
December 2007 Field Poll 39% 33% 28%
January 14-20, 2008 Field Poll[10] 42% 37% 21%

In the January poll, 70% of likely voters said they had heard of the measures. That is a significant uptick since December 2007, when only 27% of voters said they were aware of the measures.

In the last days before the Feb. 5th election, the average TV view was being subjected to 69 ads a week.[11] The ad blitz is trying to sway public opinion and there has been a shift in favor the gambling measures as a result.[12] So far over $143 million dollars have been spent on the campaign

Funding the opposition campaign

Garry South, a political advisor to the tribes that oppose the compacts, has estimated that any campaign will be expensive-as much as $80 million.[13] So far the tribes have raised $56 million to promote the compacts while the opposition has raised a total near $15 million.[14]

The Bay Meadows and Hollywood Park horse-racing tracks; the Pala Band of Mission Indians in northern San Diego County and the United Auburn Indian Community near Sacramento, have spent millions to overturn the compacts under Tribes for Fair Play, Californians Against Unfair Deals, and Fair Public Policy Coalition. The United Auburn Indian Community contributed $4.5 million to the effort, the largest single donation to oppose the compacts.[15]

Editorial opinion

The Los Angeles Times urged a "yes" vote on all four of the gamimg compacts, saying the compacts "bring in revenue while also bringing much-needed wealth to impoverished indigenous Californians."[16]

The Modesto Bee opposed the compacts, saying, "Now, the tribes are spending a staggering amount to convince voters that these deals are noble attempts to help the state during its budget crisis. Only a sucker would fall for such a line."[17] The San Francisco Chronicle editorial board is also opposed to the compacts, writing "The deals set a terrible precedent."[18]

The Times-Herald endorsed a "yes" vote on the compacts, saying that the state needs to come to reality that the gambling gateways were opened a long time ago. This is a chance for the state to recuperate from its current $14 billion debt.[19]

The Monterey County Herald endorsed a "yes" vote for Proposition 94, 95, 96, and 97 saying "As long as voters are being asked to decide such things better handled by the experts, we say vote the way that taxes casino gaming at the highest rate possible."[20]

See also

External links

Additional reading