California tribes earmark money to fight against gaming compacts

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Pala Band of Mission Indians of north San Diego County and the United Auburn Indian Community located in the Sierra Nevada foothills of northern California have joined forces to put the brakes on new gaming compacts proposed by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians and the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation.

The four compacts were negotiated with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and ratified by both houses of the Legislature this past summer, according to a press release. Currently, the four tribes each have 2,000 slots. According to reports, under the new compacts, Morongo would immediately increase to 5,000 and Pechanga to 3,750 slots. Sycuan and Agua Caliente each plan to add 1,000 slots within the first year.

In addition to Pala and Auburn, the campaign to overturn the compacts is sponsored by Unite-Here, a hotel workers' union, and Bay Meadows Land Co., owner of two thoroughbred racetracks.

Howard Dickstein, the attorney for the two tribes, said they each donated $500,000. He indicated that the tribes will remain largely uninvolved in the referendum process. ''They are not part of the campaign or committee, but are providing the funds for it,'' he said.

They need to garner 3 million signatures by Oct. 8 in order to take it to voters in February.

Dickstein also said that Pala and Auburn are concerned that additional slot machines will negatively impact small, Native-owned casinos, especially if they depend on slot players that flow to their casinos when the larger venues are busy.

Under the new terms, the four tribes have agreed to pay 15 percent of the net gain on additional machines up to 5,000 and 25 percent for anything above that amount. The current gaming compact is set up on a tiered scale, and the fees go as high as $25,000 a year for each machine in excess of 4,500.

In an addition to boosting state revenue, the four tribes have agreed to pay an annual $9 million into the state's Revenue Sharing Trust Fund, which provides money to non-gaming tribes. This doubles what the four tribes currently pay into the fund.

Both the California Nations Indian Gaming Association and the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations oppose the referendums.

''I personally urge Californians who are approached to sign petitions seeking to overturn these compacts to reject those efforts and support the tribes' increased payments to the state for vitally needed services,'' said CNIGA Chair Anthony Miranda, in a press release. ''If these compacts are overturned, it will remove hundreds of millions of dollars from the 2007 - 2008 budget awaiting state Senate approval.''

Jacob Mejia, spokesman for the four tribes, was unavailable for comment.