California voters clear way for tribes to add thousands of slot machines

Four California ballot initiatives to allow a major expansion of gambling at Indian casinos passed voter muster in February. The measures, propositions 94, 95, 96 and 97 on the ballot, garnered 55.8 percent statewide voter approval. Scott Macdonald, spokesman for the campaign that opposed the casino measures, acknowledged defeat and said his group would not file any lawsuits against the vote.

“It’s done. I don’t think there are any options,” Macdonald told The Desert Sun newspaper.

The pacts were forged to allow four Riverside County and San Diego County tribes to add 17,000 slot machines to the 8,000 they already operate. In return, the tribes would pay the state a combined minimum of $123 million a year and up to 25 percent of the revenue from the new machines.

The vote allows the tribes to build some of the world’s largest casinos and boosts efforts by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to use tribal gambling revenues to help curb the state deficit. The expanded gaming is expected to generate $9 billion in state revenue over the next 20 years.

Supporters and opponents of casino gambling in the state spent more than $150 million to sway the vote.

The Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation will each be allowed to add up to 5,000 machines to their casinos.

While Yes on 94-97 campaign spokesman Roger Salazar said voters approved “hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenues,” Alison Harvey, executive director of the California Tribal Business Alliance, told the Sacramento Bee newspaper that Schwarzenegger is engaging in an “incredibly reckless” political game if he is seeking to base his state budgeting plans on a continued expansion of Indian gambling.

She said a policy basing state budget plans on a continued expansion of Indian gambling benefits only “those very few tribes who have lands in commercially viable locations at the expense of the vast majority of tribes, which don’t.”

Two members of the six-tribe business alliance, the Pala Band of Mission Indians in San Diego County and the United Auburn Community, operator of the Thunder Valley Casino near Sacramento, negotiated lucrative deals earlier with Schwarzenegger. The four Southern California tribes spent more than $120 million in fighting efforts by Pala, United Auburn, the Unite HERE labor union and Hollywood Park and Bay Meadows horse-racing and land development interests to overturn the gambling agreements they signed with Schwarzenegger in 2006.

-Staff Reports