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Peripheral theme at CNIGA: Layoffs, recession

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – At least 450 Indian casino jobs have been terminated in California. Elaborate plans to expand gaming operations at one casino have been scrapped, nullifying a heavily fought for compact amendment. And more slot machines are sitting idle in California’s Indian casinos.

But the national recession and credit crisis that set off those developments is not letting some of the participants and organizers of this year’s California Nations Indian Gaming Association conference damper the mood.

In fact many of the scheduled themes and presentations at this year’s conference, scheduled for Jan. 13-16, look beyond the recession and concentrating on topics aimed at preserving and extending profits for California’s gaming tribes. Presentations include updates on state and federal legislation, Class II gaming, IRS audits, renewable energy policy and how the incoming Barack Obama Administration could alter tribal gaming. The four day program also includes maintenance topics like special distribution funds.

“These are issues brought to our attention in the four or five months of planning. They are things we have been monitoring all along,” said Lee Acebedo, executive director CNIGA.

There have been no distress signals that could significantly bring down the mood of participants at this year’s conference scheduled at the Palm Springs Convention Center, according to those interviewed for this article. Still, the economic downturn is expected to make its mark, they said.

“There will be that undercurrent sure, but Indian people are positive people and we will continue to be so,” said Agua Caliente Tribal Chairman Richard M. Milanovich, who is scheduled to address the floor on the first day of the conference and whose checkerboard-pattern reservation includes its venue.

Milanovich added that although he expects this year’s conference (on its 14th run) to be smaller, it will retain its importance.

“I think what will happen is (participants) will be well rewarded with a well run informative session.”

Ryan Burns of Egghart & Associates, a Reno accounting firm that consults tribes and casinos and who is scheduled to make a presentation at the conference, said the recession has made some inroads in the standard optimism shared by gaming tribes.

“People are definitely trying to understand the financial and budgetary process more. The interest level has increased where before if there was sufficient revenue nobody really cared too much and now people are really interested in understanding their tribe’s financial status,” Burns said.

At the conference, Burns said, his firm will encourage gaming tribes to anticipate possible additional reduction in casino traffic and consider its possible impacts on their government operations. “Tribes really need to look at their government budgets as well.”

CNIGA’s Acebedo said he expects that apprehension will carry over to the conference.
“I think the mood is going to be one of cautious and concern. Especially with our spending and to be careful about that and consider how long it will last and the kind of impact overall,” he said of the recession.

One presentation giving an overview on renewable energy projects comes with recession laden talk points.

Michael Connolly, who helped developed the Campo Band of Kumeyaay Nation’s massive wind energy facility and scheduled to discuss the prospect of such projects said that the current economy has hindered financing, increasing a potential investment by “a couple of percentage points.”

“I have heard some developers are slowing down to wait out the recession but others see it as a window to firm up their projects earning potential (think of it as a yellow flag at the Indianapolis 500, it’s a good time to make your pit stops),” he said in an e-mail.