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Election day primer: Referenda on the ballot

It's election season and Indian gaming issues are once again affecting statewide races around the country. Gaming referenda face voters in several states, while several governors' contests may be influenced to varying degrees by outstanding gambling related issues. With Nov. 5 just around the corner, a look at the presence of Indian gaming in a few of this year's state and local elections reveals the degree of financial power and influence tribal gambling operations continue to collectively amass.


Indian gaming dominates the Arizona ballot with three propositions, each of which expands gaming in the state. Each benefits different groups and slides various amounts of revenue to the state. Voters are reportedly "confused" over the three props, so an overview here might be appropriate.

Proposition 200, proposed by the Colorado River Indian Tribes, seeks new gaming compacts which would allow up to three gaming facilities per tribe. Each facility would be authorized between 1,000 and 1,400 slot machines and up to 20 table games. Tribes would donate 3 percent of net win to fund scholarship programs for both Indian and non-Indians students and health care for the elderly. This proposition does not allow for slot machines at racetracks. It also calls for a restriction of state regulatory oversight, an idea that may conflict with IGRA's three-tiered federal-state-tribal regulatory structure. Compacts would last for 40 years.

Proposition 201, backed by Arizona's horse and dog race tracks, would allow such facilities to own and operate slot machines in an effort to boost sagging revenues. It would also dramatically expand gaming opportunities throughout the state. Ten gaming facilities would be allocated to tracks statewide with no more than two per county; each "racino" could house 550 to 950 slots. Prop 201 would also allow Indian tribes one to three gaming facilities apiece, each of which could contain 600 to 2,400 slots and 50 to 75 table games. The proposition calls for full public disclosure of finances from Indian gaming operations, which is not required by and may be superceded by IGRA. Compacts would last for 10 years. Indian gaming operations would contribute 8 percent of gaming revenues to the state, while 40 percent of the slot take at racinos would go to the state.

Proposition 202 was proposed by 17 of Arizona's 18 gaming tribes, i.e. all of them except the CRIT. This measure would allow only seven more Indian casinos in the state, capping the total at 29, and would limit table games to 20 per casino but would expand their scope to include more types of games. Compacts would have a term of 20 years; the state would get up to 8 percent of revenue. This measure allows for electronic monitoring by state regulators of all tribal slot machines, which some might see as a significant concession to sovereignty. This proposition is similar to a deal negotiated with Republican Gov. Jane Hull, which was defeated on May 22 during a special session of the Arizona legislature.

Backers of the various proposals have reportedly raised $32 million in support of their respective campaigns, according to an Oct. 19 Associated Press report.


Voters in Idaho on Nov. 5 will also have the opportunity to vote on a gaming referendum. Passage of Proposition 1 would legalize electronic slot machines already in use at the state's five tribally owned gaming facilities operated by the Nez Perce, Coeur d'Alene and Salish-Kootenai Tribes.

Prop 1 would declare that video slots be classified as non-casino gaming instruments. In another variation of the Class II vs. Class III debate, supporters say that the video machines now in use are similar to the state lottery's use of scratch-off tickets; opponents say they "look, sound and act" like casino slots, which the state constitution appears to prohibit. Opponents also feel that the proposal would "open the door" for the spread of gaming throughout the state; Prop 1 specifically limits gaming to "Indian lands."

The measure also provides for "contribution of 5 percent of net gaming income for educational programs and schools on or near the reservations [and] limiting gaming to Indian lands," according to the text of the initiative. Compacts could be renegotiated after 10 years.

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Article 3, section 20 of the Idaho constitution states that gambling is "contrary to public policy and is strictly prohibited" but makes exceptions for a state lottery, pari-mutuel wagering and charity raffles and bingo. Legal gaming in Idaho shall not "employ any form of casino gambling including but not limited to blackjack, craps, roulette, poker, baccarat, keno and slot machines, or employ any electronic or electromechanical imitation or simulation of any form of casino gambling."


Last year's proposal by the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Tribes to build a $500-million gaming resort in southern Maine fired an explosion of casino controversy. While the tribes have repeatedly insisted they will not build in a community where they are not wanted, municipal and county governments have risen en masse, but not en toto, to oppose them.

On Nov. 5, resolutions in nine southern towns will measure local residents' desire for an Indian casino in their particular community. These nine towns are Alfred, Biddeford, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, North Berwick, Saco, Sanford, South Berwick and Wells. Some referenda ask simply whether a casino is favored or opposed; others question whether local tax funds should be spent on anti-casino lobbying. Of these, the town boards of Biddeford and Sanford have both expressed more than moderate interest in hosting the proposed casino; Biddeford's mayor is unabashedly pro-casino.

Earlier this year, eight communities in the area, Berwick, Eliot, Kennebunk, Kittery, North Berwick Ogunquit, Wells and York, voted on similar casino-rejection measures.

Even if one or more communities were to OK casino gaming, the Maine State Legislature would have to pass such legislation as well. The Penobscot/Passamaquoddy proposal is slated for consideration after the new legislature is seated early next year. [An architect's rendering of the proposed casino was pictured on page C-1 of Indian Country Today, vol. 22, issue 17, Oct. 9, 2002.]


California, a state whose recent elections have been dominated by gaming related issues much like Arizona's are this year, has thus been "quiet" on the Indian gaming front, according to James May of Indian Country Today's California Bureau.

"For the first time since 1996, there are no American Indian gaming measures on the ballot and the passage of Propositions 5 and 1A along with an overturned legal challenge earlier this year, has, at least for the moment, placed the larger issue of California Indian gaming on stable ground," May wrote in last week's edition of this paper. [See "All quiet on the western front." Indian Country Today, vol. 22 issue 19, Oct. 23, 2002, p. A-1.]

Democratic Governor Gray Davis on Sept. 30 vetoed a bill that would have given the state's federally recognized tribes significant input and blocking power regarding development projects adjacent to sites deemed sacred.

"Though tribes were not happy with the veto, Davis managed to assuage fears by saying he would fight for some of the central tenets of the bill, thus avoiding tribal hostility during the campaign," May said in his Oct. 23 article.