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Mixed referenda debunk casino backlash claim

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UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Contrary to the claims of the religious right, the
Mohegan Indian Tribe doesn't see a backlash against tribal casinos in the
Nov. 2 voting on a series of state gaming referenda.

Although the costly and well-covered Proposition 70 lost by a large margin
in California, and gaming expansion failed in Washington state and
Nebraska, the results gave a green light to the Mohegan's ambitious
expansion plans. By rejecting Initiative 892, which would have put slot
machines in convenience stores and bowling alleys, Washington state voters
bolstered the economics of tribal casinos, and specifically joint plans of
the Mohegans and the Cowlitz Tribe to develop a $400 million gaming
complex. The initiative was billed as an attempt to break the tribal
monopoly on gambling, and was supported in part by the former owner of a
failed non-Indian casino, but voters rejected it by 61 percent.

On the other hand, 58 percent of the voters in Kenosha, Wis., approved a
non-binding measure supporting a Menominee tribal casino at the Dairyland
Greyhound Park. The Mohegans have loaned money to develop the casino and
recently signed a management contract with the Menominee and a local

The upbeat reaction from Mohegan tribal officials, two of whom flew to
Wisconsin to observe the vote, belies claims of anti-casino religious
figures that a "backlash" has set in. The Baptist Press service quoted Rev.
Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized
Gambling (NCALG), as saying the Nov. 2 voting was a "tipping point" in the
fight against gambling. Grey argued that gaming proposals failed in five
states this election and passed in only one.

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But his analysis missed the Byzantine nature of casino politics, in which
referenda can have far different impacts than their declared purpose and
supporters or opponents can have subtle agendas. He also ignored local
referenda, where the success rate was much higher. The Kenosha measure, for
instance, drew vocal opposition from a local minister but much of the
funding against it came from the Forest County Potawatomi, protecting their
casino monopoly in Milwaukee. Likewise anticasino committees of churchmen
have often turned out to be financed by non-Indian gaming interests, such
as Donald Trump.

Measures to restrict gaming can serve to protect existing tribal casinos,
as was the case with Michigan's Proposal 1. The proposal, requiring state
and local voter approval for new casinos, passed by 59 percent on Nov. 2,
but it exempted tribal casinos, as well as three existing casinos in

But measures to expand non-Indian gaming could also expand the range of
offerings at tribal casinos, under the Supreme Court's 1988 Cabazon ruling
and the subsequent Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Florida's Amendment Four
to allow non-Indian casinos in Miami/Dade and Broward Counties would also
have broken an impasse over a tribal gaming compact and opened the door to
Class III casinos. As of Nov, 4, voteing for the Amendment was in a virtual
50 - 50 tie, with 3,429,416 in favor and 3,430,159 against and thousands of
absentee ballots still to be counted. Election officials said a recount was
highly likely.

Oklahoma's Question 712 passed handily by 65 - 35 percent, in the middle of
a conservative landslide that gave Bush 66 percent and the conservative
Republican Senate candidate Tom Coburn 53 percent. The question approved
state-tribal compacts expanding the range of slot machines. It also
authorized three racinos, but two of those would be owned by the Cherokee
and Choctaw, who strongly supported the measure.

Nebraska was the one state that apparently followed the Baptist model. It
voted down a series of initiatives and amendments that would have allowed
casinos, or allowed voters to approve gambling. The closest, which would
have allowed two casinos in Omaha, lost by 53 to 47 percent. The loss
disappointed the Winnebago Tribe's plans to bid for one of the urban
casinos, but it also protected the business of its WinnaVegas casino across
the Mississippi River in Sloan, Iowa.