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San Manuel resigns from gaming association

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SAN DIEGO ? The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians has revoked its membership in the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA).

The reason is not immediately apparent though several sources say the split is the result of growing discontent among tribes over the issue of gaming in the Golden State.

In a Sept. 26 letter to CNIGA, San Manuel Chairman Derron Marquez alluded to unstated accusations regarding critical comments made by other CNIGA members.

Marquez wrote that his tribe 'shall not belong to an association that condones such statements from its members.' The letter gives no specifics on those perceived injurious statements.

'Through the years, San Manuel and CNIGA have dichotomized and this act should not be seen as a brazen exploit. San Manuel's vision and CNIGA's vision has arrived at a crossroad and we have to act for what is best and more productive for San Manuel,' Marquez wrote to CNIGA Chairman Danny Tucker.

ttempts to reach Marquez by telephone and e-mail went unanswered.

The move has left CNIGA confused. Spokeswoman Susan Jensen said Marquez had been talking about running for the chairmanship of CNIGA. Jensen said that though she is not sure of San Manuel's motives, CNIGA chairman Danny Tucker has been in contact with Marquez and was attempting to 'get to the root of the problem.'

Jensen also says there were no injurious statements made by CNIGA toward San Manuel, but she cannot confirm or deny such statements were made by individual member tribes. Though Jensen said she could not comment further, CNIGA released a press statement on its reaction.

'CNIGA recognizes and respects the right of the San Manuel tribe to chart their own course. We acknowledge the enormous contribution that San Manuel has made in the struggle for tribal self-reliance. Their leadership, inspiration and material contributions to our struggle will always be remembered in our hearts.'

A little more than a month ago, San Manuel, led by Marquez, joined only one other tribe, Pechanga, to oppose confirmation of John Hensley as chairman of the Gov. Gray Davis-appointed Gambling Control Commission. Both tribes were the subject of harsh criticism from other CNIGA tribes, the majority of which backed the Hensley nomination.

Those close to the issue say the fight over the Hensley nomination left many bitter emotions. It was reported at the time that San Manuel and Pechanga were particularly afraid of having their sovereignty eroded by the Gambling Control Commission.

Though CNIGA denies any major cracks in the united fa?ade presented by the California tribes since the Proposition 5 and 1A campaigns that legalized Indian gaming in California, others said the crack has become a chasm of which the San Manuel break is just a symptom.

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The issue has been emerging behind the scenes for several months. The central reason for the fissure is money, poor versus rich. One source, who asked to remain anonymous, said the issue is largely jealousy by poor tribes over the fact a small number of tribes have managed to make millions of dollars.

But he added, the poor versus rich scenario is simplistic and misses the mark. He said the tribes, such as Pechanga and San Manuel, had to endure risks over the years and put in hard work to ensure the passage of Propositions 5 and 1A.

The source pointed out that some 20 or so tribes involved in the statewide campaigns endured the risk of being fined and arrested. He sees no problem with the fact some of the tribes have become rich since they put in the years of hard-won effort to ensure the right of other tribes to do so.

'Basically these 20 tribes carried the rest of Indian country into the gaming arena on their backs. Making money is just their reward for doing so.'

The main problem is that the compact with Governor Davis is imperfectly written, he said. This led to division in the tribal ranks over how certain aspects of the compacts should be interpreted.

One early warning sign that things were not right dealt with the one-year deadline for machine licenses to become operational. Some larger gaming tribes interpreted the clause in the compact to mean all machines licensed should be in place and up and running within one year from a May 15, 2000, machine-license draw.

Other tribes, such as San Pasqual, said that the interpretation of that particular clause was much more vague. San Pasqual Chairman Allen Lawson said the clause does not mean there must be a unified date set for all the tribes. Lawson said the idea that machines must be in operation is in itself ambiguous.

'How do you define this? Does this mean that you can have just a few machines up and running and have a bunch in a warehouse, or do they have to all be on the floor? These are the kind of issues that we're working on,' Lawson said.

Several smaller and non-gaming tribes say rules of operation needed to be extended for various reasons. They claimed the May 15, 2001, deadline did not give them enough time to get all the machines operational. These tribes were supported by a host of local non-Indian citizens groups who said tribal casinos were being rushed to the detriment of local communities and the surrounding infrastructure.

Tribes who spearheaded the Proposition 5 and 1A campaigns said they felt extending the deadline constituted a breach of faith with the California voters. They said a timely and orderly process should be in place to assuage fears of rampant expansion of Indian gaming in California.

However, Lawson downplays the idea of an unbridgeable divide and said he thinks differences of tribal opinion are just part of sovereignty. He praised Marquez for the work he has done and said he has been a good leader for San Manuel and in protecting their interests.

Furthermore, Lawson said he thinks the internal debates arising over how Indian gaming should be governed and regulated are a 'natural part of the process,' and thinks ultimately that tribes are all reaching for the same goal.