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Third California ballot gaming initiative proposed

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The initiatives just keep coming. Coming on the heels of proposals by the state's card clubs and racetracks and followed by a counterproposal by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is a brand new initiative sponsored by gaming opponents.

Noted gaming opponent and Director of Stand Up for California, an anti-gaming group, Cheryl Schmit has proposed a new initiative that seeks to give greater power to the governor in negotiating tribal/state compacts.

Not since the insurance industry flooded the ballot over a decade ago to counter opposing proposals with as many initiatives has California seen such a spate of proposed ballot measures on a single industry.

As in the case of the other proposals this one is trying to lure tribes to the table by allowing for an expansion of tribal gaming facilities. Whereas the other proposals seek to expand gaming almost indefinitely this one would only allow a relatively modest expansion for tribes. Currently tribes are allowed 2,000 machines and the latest proposal would enlarge the cap to a total of 3,000.

Like the Agua Caliente initiative this one would be based on the corporate tax rate in California of 8.85 percent. However, that would only be a base figure as local costs for law enforcement and infrastructure would also factor into the deals and based on expansion. In other words, tribes would be forced to come to agreements with local governments.

Though Schmit has no financial backers as of yet, she said she will begin the process of finding them in the weeks to come. However, Schmit is very well connected and has come under fire from tribal circles for her association with Sonoma County Supervisor Valerie Brown, who is a paid consultant for four Los Angeles-area cities, about 400 miles south of Sonoma County, with large card clubs.

Brown has been an ardent critic of tribal casinos in Sonoma County where she has worked actively to limit tribal gaming.

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Until very recently Schmit has been a consultant for Brown, whose work has been linked to the Los Angeles County card clubs in California media outlets. Schmit claims that she and Brown decided to terminate their professional association because of a "conflict of interest" over the competing ballot initiatives.

The one concession that Schmit makes to tribal governance is allowing tribes to draft their own environmental policies as long as they are compatible with current state standards.

Additionally Schmit's initiative would also allow for the right in some limited instances for parties to seek legal recourse in state court against the tribe. Curiously, since Schmit is a Republican, her initiative also allows for labor unions to organize on tribal reservations.

San Manuel Chairman Derron Marquez disagrees with most tenets of Schmit's proposal and questions the purpose of adding another initiative to the ballot.

"In the case of this initiative, it will really just confuse voters," said Marquez, who also accuses Schmit of "playing both sides of the field," a reference to her connection to Brown.

Both Schmit's initiative and the Agua Caliente initiative seek to allow tribes to maintain their monopoly on slot machine gaming. However the initiative backed by the card clubs and race tracks force the tribes to come to the negotiating table within a month of passage and agree to pay approximately one quarter of their profits or else lose their gaming monopoly to race tracks and card rooms. In turn the card clubs and race tracks would have to furnish the state with 33 percent of their take should they get slot machines

Schmit had also been at the forefront of cutting local deals with a few northern California tribes including the United Auburn Indian Community.

The card club initiative has just cleared the California Attorney General's office and is beginning to collect signatures for the November ballot. Schmit said that her proposal will probably not be ready to begin collecting signatures until the middle of March.