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Prominent leader rejects governor's request for increased casino revenue

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - With the renegotiating process of California's tribal/state compacts underway, a prominent tribal leader came to California's capital city to fire a warning shot aimed at Gov. Davis' suggestion that tribes contribute more of their gaming revenue to state coffers.

The compact renegotiations began behind closed doors on March 24 with a reported 20 out of 61 tribes with gaming compacts meeting with a three-member team, including former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, appointed by Gov. Davis.

Gov. Davis has made it known that his intent is to wrest some $1.5 billion in Indian gaming revenue to help bridge a $26 billion budget deficit. In return the governor has hinted that he would perhaps lift the current 2,000-machine cap currently in place.

Pechanga Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro who flew into town to make an appearance at the Sacramento Press Club began his 20-minute speech with a plea to the press for greater understanding of the importance of gaming to California's Indian tribes. Pechanga is one of several tribes that has yet to respond to a Feb. 28 letter from Davis requesting commencement of the compact renegotiations.

"With the possible exception of Indian Country Today, I don't believe there is a newspaper outside Nevada or Atlantic City that has an editorial board which favors legal gambling," said Macarro.

Though Macarro said that he did not want to change opinion, he then spent the remainder of the time making a persuasive speech regarding the contribution issue.

Macarro contended that coerced payments to the state by tribal governments constituted a violation of tribal sovereignty. He called the governor's way of dealing with the issue "insulting" since the state had not asked tribes for their input before he concocted the idea.

The Davis Administration has stated that the money is needed to combat the environmental problems caused by the casinos. However, Macarro turned the tables on the assembled press and fired off a series of rhetorical questions.

Did city fathers and county supervisors come to our tribal councils and say, "We are going to build a Super Wal-Mart. Do you mind?" asked Macarro rhetorically. "No. Of course not, it was no longer our land."

Macarro further made the point that California Indian casinos have contributed vast sums of money to local governments. He points out that tribes will already have to pay $1 billion over the next 18 years to the Special Distribution Fund which is already set up to help municipalities offset infrastructure and potential environmental problems. Payments into this fund are made by 28 of the 61 tribes.

In a related story, a letter dated March 28 to the 61 compacted tribes Gov. Davis asked to open renegotiations of Section 4 of the compacts. In plain English this is perhaps a signal that the governor will indeed try to negotiate a lifting of the current cap of 2,000 machines to try and coax the tribes into coughing up the $1.5 billion he is seeking.

Davis spokeswoman Amber Pasricha would neither confirm nor deny that this was the governor's intent.

However, Pasricha did dispute a few of Macarro's claims. The first being that the current $100 million paid into the Special Distribution Fund would probably not be enough to cover both environmental and infrastructure impacts made by tribal gaming operations - as well as funding for the California Gambling Control Commission; a regulatory panel that is appointed by the governor.

Pasricha contends that the Special Distribution Fund is also controlled by the state legislature and can be utilized to fund other things, including the Commission, and it is not a guarantee that the money would go to environmental impacts.

"The state will need more than $100 million a year to offset the environmental and infrastructure impacts," says Pasricha. "While some tribes have done a wonderful job in helping their local communities with these issues, the state needs a guarantee."

Additionally Pasricha says the Special Distribution fund only received its first payments last October, as per the rules of the original agreement, and it is unknown what impact it will actually have or which projects it will ultimately fund.