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Ready, Set, Gamble


Gambling and Indians has moved from the back burner of California politics where its been boiling away nicely, thank you, to the front of the stove with the news that Gov. Terminator has cut a pretty solid deal with some of the tribes.
It’s an attempt to get gaming questions off the November ballot; but this fight is no slam-dunk. Schwarzenegger could be in for a real fight, the kind that makes or breaks. Things go well, the governor collects more taxes, casinos expand in a regulated and well-planned way and everybody’s happy. Things go badly, the TV explodes with ads, casinos spring up whereever the tribes want to place them and Schwarzenegger gets a black mark on his so far sterling political record.

This is tough stuff, even for the disciplined and relentlessly optimistic governor. A lot of issues are in the mix and they’re all combustible by themselves. The tribe’s sovereignty rights which are not to be trifled with, for starters. Indians (we’re talking feather, not dot, Native Americans, to the politically correct) are recognized as a nation to themselves. They aren’t part of this great state although they live here. So budget issues, local government funding and the like all enter into the picture. And then there are the “not in my backyard” types. Casinos aren’t welcome everywhere.
Schwarzenegger has done okay so far. He’s gotten some of the tribes to agree to limits on the number of slot machines, limits on outside investors and a series of payments to state and local governments. That’s a big win as the San Francisco Chronicle demonstrates, detailing the cordial but often tense relations between tribes and local government.
The LA Times delivers the best all-round story on the deal between Gov. Terminator and the tribes along with a look at its ramifications. The Bee has the gory details of who got what.
The gaming issue – Indian Tribes versus racetrack owners and card clubs (these are small, legal poker and other card game rooms, for those of you outside the state) – is headed to be a big issue this year. Which is why Schwarzengger’s fight to get it off the ballot isn’t going to be easy.
A lot of money has been spent and lots of positioning has been mapped out making this a serious contest – a contest that might just, given the stakes, the publicity and California’s sheer size – turn into a national debate on the issue. Here’s an advance highlight reel: The state’s track and card club owners think the Indians are stealing business and have an unfair advantage. The Indians, well, getting thrown off the entire country that was once yours will make folks a little testy.
If things get out of control and the tribes go their own way in anger, California could become, as one Schwarzenegger advisor so delicately put it, like Nevada (without, one assumes, the cigarette smoke). Even if negotiations are successful, the spread of gambling resorts – there are two being eyed near San Francisco in San Pablo and southern Sonoma Country – isn’t always welcome. Gambling politics ain’t easy, as The Chron points out so nicely; it’s money and this cash-starved state needs all it can get. But it costs.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 9:40 PM | Permalink

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