Getting whacked with a 2 x 4

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Shock and dismay followed the Aug. 19 announcement that the Lytton Band of
Pomo Indians inked a compact with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
that would allow the tribe to build a 5,000-slot casino in San Pablo, just
outside San Francisco.

"I'm shocked," reacted San Pablo Mayor Barbara Vigil, who in 2000 agreed to
let the tribe acquire land in her city. "We envisioned some slot machines,
up to 1,000, and bingo games and card games."

Bingo and some card games? Just outside what is potentially one of the
nation's largest and most lucrative gambling markets?

"I was surprised," San Francisco Chronicle columnist Phil Matier said. "I
thought they could only have 2,000 machines."

"In San Francisco?" I replied. "Aren't there a lot of people in San
Francisco?"

A day earlier the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians acknowledged it was
contemplating building adjacent to its Alpine, Calif. casino a gambling
resort for its neighbors the Ewiiaapaayp Band of Kumeyaay Indians.

Both tribes recently agreed to compacts with Schwarzenegger that would
allow them to operate as many slot machines as motorists on adjacent
Interstate 8 from nearby San Diego. That's a lot.

"Can they do this?" a Southern California newspaper reporter asked me.

"Yep," I replied.

"Do you think they will?"

"I would."

The same day the Orange County Register announced that casino impresario
Steve Wynn was talking to Garden Grove officials and the Mesa Grande
Indians about building a casino near Disneyland.

"Do you think Steve Wynn will talk to me?" a Los Angeles Times reporter
asked.

"Let me get my rolodex," I said.

It was too much for the poor souls in Lotus Land. In one day they learned
the hard truth about casinos, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of
1988, and just how tribal and non-Indian governments could use, and abuse,
the landmark legislation.

It was like getting whacked in the forehead with a 2 x 4. But to most of us
who have watched the spread and evolution of commercial and tribal
government gaming over the last two decades, it was business as usual.

We have in the last 20 years become a nation of gamblers. In 1988, when I
joined the Las Vegas Review-Journal, where I covered gambling, organized
labor and organized crime, lotteries were spreading to what are now 39
states and the District of Columbia.

Casino gambling was limited to Nevada and Atlantic City, N.J. But private
commercial casino operating companies were going public to raise the
capital needed to take advantage of opportunities in other states. They
have since established casinos in 11 states, not to mention North Dakota,
where casinos are operated by non-profit corporations.

The spread of lottery and commercial casino gambling throughout the United
States was fueled by states seeking tax revenue to deal with an
often-slumping national economy. It was only natural that the First
Americans, seeking to overcome generations of poverty, neglect and a failed
system of federal paternalism, would emulate their fellow sovereigns.
Tribes pressed their sovereign right to operate gaming on Indian lands, won
landmark U.S. Supreme rulings in Florida and California, and, faced with
opposition from state governments, begrudgingly accepted IGRA as an
alternative to further Indian wars.

The end result is that we've rather quickly created a nation of gamblers.
Lotteries are widespread and expanding with the use of Video Lottery
Terminals. Commercial and tribal casinos are legal in some 32 states.
Racetracks in six states are installing slots to boost fading revenues. And
annual consumer spending on all forms of legal gambling has soared since
the late 1980s from some $8 billion to nearly $70 billion.

Here are some hard truths for those in Lotus Land and elsewhere who are
late on what has been a 20-year trend:

Tribal and commercial casino gambling has and will continue to spread
throughout most of this country. California is no exception. Next stop:
Texas and Florida, already one of the biggest gambling states in the
country with horse and dog tracks, Class II tribal casinos, cruise ships, a
lottery, bingo and jai lai.

Commercial and tribal casinos, racetracks and lotteries, once competing
businesses, will continue to merge into a single industry. Commercial
gambling companies and tribes will continue to enter into management and
operating agreements. Racetracks will develop slot and VLT casinos and
merge with casino companies.

Small and landless tribes will continue to enter into agreements with
private investors, casino companies and larger tribes to develop
off-reservation and new reservation projects in or around urban areas.

More non-recognized tribes will seek federal recognition.

And enrollment issues will continue to generate headlines.

When IGRA was enacted, tribal leaders throughout the country knew it would
not be long before states - and some tribes - would violate the
congressional intent of IGRA, which was to strengthen tribal governments
and build tribal economies.

Would Congress and state governments attempt to tax tribal gaming and other
revenues, they asked?

Of course.

Would local and state governments use the compact process to infringe on
tribal jurisdiction and erode tribal sovereignty?

Absolutely.

Would it be long before state and local governments seek their own forms of
legal gambling to compete with the tribes?

It's 2004. Do the math.

There are rumblings in Texas and Florida about expanded lotteries and slots
at the racetracks. And we will soon read about plans by the Seminoles and
Alabama Coushattas to build new and larger casinos. And how will elected
officials and the press react?

They will be shocked and dismayed.

Dave Palermo is a special assistant to the Hopi Tribe and a freelance
writer. He can be reached at dgpalermo@aol.com.