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Miranda elected CNIGA head

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The California Indian Nations Gaming Association (CNIGA) elected Pechanga tribal member Anthony Miranda to be the new chairman during the organization's annual meeting on Dec. 4.

Miranda, who was the group's executive secretary for the past two years, takes over for former Cabazon chairwoman Brenda Soulliere who has served the lead post at CNIGA since 2001. Though CNIGA does not release a complete tally of the number of votes, Miranda ran against Soulliere who lost her bid to continue in her post.

"Certainly I'm honored by the fact that tribal governments have voted me in as chair and I'm optimistic about the work ahead," Miranda said.

Though most of the daily operations at CNIGA, the largest tribal gaming lobbying group in California, are run by a permanent staff led by Executive Director Jacob Coin, the chairman still has to work to coordinate many of the myriad of activities the group participates in throughout the year.

Prior to his election to the chairmanship, Miranda served as the president of the Pechanga Development Corporation and also held a post with the Pechanga Tribal Gaming Commission. The tribe operates a glitzy 65,000 square foot, 2,000 slot machine casino on their reservation located on the outskirts of Temecula, a medium sized town in southwestern Riverside County.

During his tenure with the Pechanga Development Corporation, Miranda was one of the architects of a plan to finance the casino construction without corporate backing. The project was financed through bank loans and profits from a smaller previous casino the tribe operated near the site.

Additionally, Miranda was also in the forefront of the campaign to pass Proposition 5 in 1998 that, along with a subsequent initiative known as Proposition 1A, legalized Indian gaming in California. Though his fellow Pechanga tribesman, Mark Macarro, was the face most commonly seen on television during the campaign, Miranda was a prominent behind the scenes campaigner for the initiatives.

Miranda ascends to the top post at CNIGA during a time of uncertainty for Indian gaming. Currently Indian gaming is perhaps at its most unpopular ebb with the state's voters since the overwhelming passage of Proposition 1A in March 2000.

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Though some dispute this and blame the media for painting an unfair picture, some polls indicate the widespread support Indian gaming enjoyed just a few years ago is beginning to slip in areas that had previously strongly supported it.

Also, some point to Arnold Schwarzenegger's recent victory for the governor's seat as further proof of a backlash against Indian gaming since he promised to try and wrest as much as a quarter of tribal casino earnings for the state.

Another recent development concerns a proposed initiative which supporters are trying to get on next November's ballot. This initiative would force tribes to give one quarter of their revenue to the state or face an end to their monopoly on Las Vegas-style gaming in the Golden State.

It is during these uncertain times for tribal gaming that Miranda takes the chairmanship. It is perhaps for this reason he is a bit cautious in his comments about the new gubernatorial administration. Miranda avoided the subject of Schwarzenegger only saying that he does not have "much to comment on (in regard) to the new governor."

As chairman, Miranda promises to try to build coalitions with tribes outside the CNIGA membership. Though CNIGA represents more than 70 mainly gaming tribes, there are several other tribes, some with large casinos that do not belong to the organization.

Miranda is quick to point out that CNIGA in itself is not a sovereign government and can mainly serve the function of creating lines of communication both between tribal governments and with the state government.

Mostly, Miranda said he is looking forward to the challenges that he is sure to face in the coming months.

In other CNIGA election news, Ken Gilbert of the Mooretown Rancheria, won his re-election bid as treasurer. A special election to replace Miranda as executive secretary will be held in January.