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Coalition formed to re-negotiate gaming compacts

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Though the last year has seen some fractious disputes between the once united coalition for Indian gaming interests, several tribes once again find themselves uniting.

Now three years after Proposition 1A, 21 tribes from various places in California have formed together to name a team of their own negotiators with the state of California when renegotiations on the three-year old gaming compacts commence in March.

"We recognize that both our Tribe and the State have important interests at stake and we look forward to meaningful negotiations," says John Currier, chairman of the Rincon Tribe, one of the members of the coalition.

The tribal coalition, which features several tribes represented by attorney Howard Dickstein, delivered a letter to Gov. Davis on Feb. 11 asking for the opening of negotiations next month.

This coalition does not represent all of the tribes, and as many as several other such coalitions may form before compact re-negotiations.

This will be the first of periodic talks between tribes and the state where both parties can negotiate for modifications of each tribe's existing gaming compact signed after Proposition 1A in 2000.

Though much of the letter delivered to the governor contains such standard tribal gaming industry buzz phrases such as "economic self-sufficiency," the tribes only requested one major policy shift - an expansion of the number of allowable gaming devices at tribal casinos.

This declaration from the coalition, though not a surprise, confirms what many have long expected the tribes to ask for. Many tribal allies such as California State Sen. Jim Battin, R-Palm Desert, have been asking to lift the current cap of 2,000 gaming devices per casino for at least the last year.

The letter also said that the tribes in the coalition would be willing to participate in "fair share" contributions to the state. Since this declaration comes at a time when Gov. Davis is seeking to raise $1.5 billion in revenue from the state, the question is whether or not this "fair share" is an indication that tribes are willing to give in to what Davis is seeking.

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Dickstein says no, but indicated that if the Davis administration is willing to lift the cap the tribes might be willing to give more. He said that if increased payments were paid into a third fund, and not impact the existing two funds, the tribes would be willing to negotiate.

The funds that Dickstein is speaking of are the two existing funds that tribes are currently paying a total of $151 million into. The first is a mitigation fund earmarked so local governments can mitigate against infrastructure needs caused by Indian casinos and the second is a revenue sharing fund that goes into paying non-gaming tribes and those with small operations.

What Dickstein makes clear, however, is that tribes are not willing to pay more on their existing operations and the cap would have to be lifted before the tribes would even consider paying more of their revenue to the state. He also says the coalition is not amenable to an increase in the percentage of revenue that the state already takes and Dickstein says it is not feasible for the tribes to pay on the existing revenue share.

"Right now, we have a 13 percent revenue share on the existing 20,000 machines," said Dickstein. "In order to get the kind of money ($1.5 billion) that the governor is asking for there would have to be 100,000 gaming machines, and that is probably more than the market can handle."

The coalition includes such large gaming tribes as the Rumsey Indian Rancheria, who currently have plans for a multi-million expansion on their Cache Creek casino in rural Yolo County that has caused a controversy among neighboring farmers.

However, the coalition also includes the remote Karuk tribe that does not yet have a gaming compact with the state.

Some of the other tribes in the coalition include the Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi-Yokut Tribe and Pala Band of Mission Indians, both of whom currently have gaming establishments.

The coalition will be met with a three-member team Gov. Davis selected last month to negotiate on behalf of the state. The Governor's team consists of attorney Frederick Wyle; former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso and retired Superior Court Judge Anthony Joseph.

Though the coalition has requested a re-negotiation for next month, it is unclear if that is when exactly it will happen. The letter only requested a date and it has yet to be confirmed by the governor's office.