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June 23, 2021

Measure to control Indian gaming is self-serving

Back in 1999, California voters granted Indian tribes a monopoly
on slot machines in the state. Since then, the public has watched
with growing and justifiable dismay as state and local government
leaders have groveled before the unchecked power of the tribes made
rich by that monopoly.
The tribes have built casino empires up and down the state. In
the process, they have enforced their will with little or no regard
to the impacts on
– or wishes of – state, city and county governments or their
non-Indian neighbors.
Back in 1999, California voters granted Indian tribes a monopoly on slot machines in the state. Since then, the public has watched with growing and justifiable dismay as state and local government leaders have groveled before the unchecked power of the tribes made rich by that monopoly.

The tribes have built casino empires up and down the state. In the process, they have enforced their will with little or no regard to the impacts on – or wishes of – state, city and county governments or their non-Indian neighbors.

In that environment, there is a natural appeal to an initiative that promises to force Indians to hand over a much larger percentage of their casino earnings to the state and obey environmental and campaign reporting laws.

Unfortunately, the initiative proposed, a constitutional amendment under review by the state Justice Department, won’t rein in the tribes or squeeze more money for the state out of them, as its proponents promise. Its real goal is to give the initiative’s backers a piece of the slot machine action.

Ostensibly, the measure would force tribes to give up money and follow state laws. If they didn’t, they would lose their slot machine monopoly.

But if the initiative passes, the select group of racetrack owners and card-room operators who are bankrolling this effort will likely wind up in the slots business, no matter what the tribes do.

Under the terms of the proposed initiative, all 60-plus tribes that have gambling compacts would be given just 90 days to agree to give the state 25 percent of their gambling revenues and to give up significant sovereignty rights. If they failed to do so – or if the governor, the Legislature, the Department of the Interior or the courts reject the deal – the state would be required to issue licenses for another 30,000 slot machines to be allocated to the five racetracks and 11 card-room operators that have put this nakedly self-serving measure on the ballot.

That is, in itself, reason to hope the initiative does not make it to the ballot. As desirable as reining in the power of gambling tribes may be, expanding casino gambling is too high a price for California to pay.

Proponents will need to gather almost 600,000 signatures to qualify the gambling initiative for the November 2004 ballot. The only sure way for California to win in this game is for this measure’s proponents to fail.

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