Initiatives seeking to overturn new California gaming compacts likely to make February ballot

A ballot initiative that would overturn one of four renegotiated tribal-state agreements that would lead to a major expansion of slot machines in California has qualified for the Feb. 5 ballot, state officials said.

The certified initiative targets the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, which operates a Temecula casino resort.

Signatures gathered to get the other three referendums on the ballot are also expected to be certified, election officials said.

The tribes have filed lawsuits to block statewide votes on their compacts, but courts are not expected to stand in the way of another big-spending fight over Indian casinos.

The compacts would allow each of four tribes-Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Nation of El Cajon, Pechanga of Temecula, Morongo Band of Mission Indians of east Riverside County and Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians of Palm Springs-to add up to 7,500 machines at their casinos. They are limited under the existing tribal-state compact to 2,000 machines.

Opposition to the agreements is spearheaded by the Unite HERE international casino and hotel workers union, which believes the agreements should make it easier for the union to organize. Two tribes-the Pala Band of northern San Diego County and United Auburn Indian Community of suburban Sacramento-and two horse tracks raised nearly $6 million to collect 2.8 million signatures needed to put the referendums on the ballot.

In exchange for additional slot machines, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger persuaded the tribes to give the state a larger share of the casino revenue on their existing machines. The agreements are expected to raise more than $9 billion in state funds over the next 20 years.