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Arnold Schwarzenegger softens stance on gaming

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SAN FRANCISCO - A new television ad campaign launched by one of California's richest gaming tribes in May features Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has also made TIME Magazine's list of the world's 100 most influential people.

The Republican governor's image in an ad paid for by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, which operates a casino on its reservation near Palm Springs, may be confusing for those familiar with his initial attitude toward gaming tribes.

During his gubernatorial campaign in 2003, Schwarzenegger slammed the state's gaming tribes for not ''paying their fair share.'' While campaigning against gaming propositions in 2004, Schwarzenegger even said, ''The Indians are ripping us off.''

But he's softened his tone while signing about 20 new or renegotiated compacts over two years with a handful of gaming tribes who will hand over a good portion of their profits - the latest series of which Schwarzenegger said will allow him to balance his proposed budget for next year.

Such agreements with gaming tribes points to Schwarzenegger's emerging political style: a Republican who puts the ''conserve'' back into conservative, as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. suggested in a recent article about the governor in TIME.

Schwarzenegger, who landed on TIME's 100 list of ''Leaders and Revolutionaries,'' is ''a national leader for his efforts to restore Teddy Roosevelt's conservation tradition to the GOP,'' said Kennedy, who is related to Schwarzenegger by marriage.

Since taking office in 2003, Schwarzenegger has been working to improve the state's air, water, landscapes, energy supplies and climate, Kennedy said, by putting millions of dollars into habitat restoration, fisheries management and pollution reduction and adopting ''the most aggressive greenhouse-gas-reduction policies on earth.''

Why? He is a true fiscal conservative who views environmental injury as deficit spending, Kennedy said. ''Schwarzenegger believes that good economic policy, over the long term, is always the same as good environmental policy,'' he said.

That fiscal conservativeness has also influenced 59-year-old Schwarzenegger's relations with California gaming tribes over the past several years.

Indian casinos mean billions for the state. In 2004, Schwarzenegger negotiated new gaming compacts with five southern California tribes: the Pala Band of Mission Indians, the Pauma Band of Luiseno Indians, the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians and the United Auburn Indian Community.

The tribes will pay $1 billion to the state, to be financed by a bond repaid over 18 years, which Schwarzenegger said he ''will dedicate to desperately needed transportation projects.'' They will also make payments to the state over the term of their compact expected to total $700 million.

''This is a fair deal for the tribes and for the state. It solidifies a partnership based on their exclusive gaming rights,'' Schwarzenegger said at a signing ceremony near the state capitol. ''I am hopeful that more tribes will join us.''

Such agreements helped contribute to the defeat of a ballot initiative endorsed by the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, a $100-million-plus campaign that failed because ''it was missing a key element - tribal unity,'' said CNIGA chairman Anthony Miranda during a State of the Tribal Nations Address in 2005.

Proposition 70, introduced by the Agua Caliente Band in Palm Springs and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, said tribal enterprises should give the state approximately the same percentage of tax paid by other corporations (8.84 percent).

Instead, Schwarzenegger negotiated compacts in 2005 authorizing two tribes to establish a casino in the southern California city of Barstow in exchange for 16 - 25 percent of their revenue.

That amount, to be paid by the Big Lagoon Rancheria of Humboldt County and the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians in San Diego County, is estimated to be between $23 million and $31 million during their first seven years of operation, according to a release.

And last year, during a heated re-election campaign, Schwarzenegger amended existing gaming agreements with the Morongo and four other southern California tribes - including the Agua Caliente and San Manuel bands - allowing them to add about 22,500 slot machines.

In return, the tribes would give the state an estimated $500 million a year of their earnings. If the compacts are approved by the Assembly, the expansion would represent a 50 percent increase in the number of slot machines operated by California's 57 Indian casinos, boosting the number to about 70,000.

The compacts were approved by the state Senate in April, but face an uphill battle in the Assembly, where Democrats want tribes to allow casino workers to unionize.

Also awaiting approval is a sixth agreement allowing the state's largest and poorest tribe, the Yurok, to build a casino on its reservation along the California/Oregon border. Most of the state's casinos are located in southern California, in San Diego and Riverside counties. But northern California is host to the largest casinos - Cache Creek in Yolo County and Thunder Valley in Placer County.

''I urge the Assembly to quickly adopt these compacts,'' Schwarzenegger said in a statement. ''Every additional day of delay costs the state millions of dollars for critical services that Californians rely upon.''

Such diplomacy is a far cry from his tone toward tribal gaming just several years ago.

Throughout his 2003 election campaign, Schwarzenegger called California's 104 federally recognized tribes ''powerful special interests,'' adding, ''They pay off the Congress. They make billions and they don't pay their fair share.'' Referring to Proposition 70, Schwarzenegger told Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton, ''It is tremendous greed,'' adding, ''They want to rip off the people.''

A 30-second ad placed by the 1,000-member Morongo Tribe that is running statewide shows clips of an eagle taking flight, Schwarzenegger with a serious expression and photographs of ethnically diverse people.

An announcer says, ''California and California Indian tribes, together we soar. Governor Schwarzenegger and California Indian tribes have reached historic agreements that bring California hundreds of millions of dollars a year to help balance the budget, improve education and provide quality health care for those who need it most.''

The ad ends by urging people to contact their legislators, telling them to approve the compacts: ''California's future depends on it,'' the announcer says.

View the ads at www.togethercalifornia.com.