Torres Martinez enters into gaming compact with state

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - After several months of secret renegotiations of state/tribal gaming compacts California Gov. Gray Davis' office announced on Aug. 13 that an agreement for a compact with the previously non-compacted Torres Martinez tribe.

The terms of the agreement set some new precedents for tribal/ state compacts, including the tribe's agreement to pay money directly into California's general fund and stipulations that the tribe must enter into Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) with local governments.

"There could be happier things, but this is the first step in the right direction," said Torres Martinez chairman Ray Torres.

Previously several tribes have voluntarily entered into MOUs with local governments but this is the first case in which such language is set as a requirement in a compact.

The Torres Martinez compact also represents a departure from the largely uniform compacts that were first devised by the state and tribes in 1999 and seem to be a harbinger for the future on the other ongoing negotiations and renegotiations.

"These are not cookie cutter compacts this time," said Barry Goode, Legal Affairs Secretary for Gov. Davis in the first hint of what might be expected when other deals will have been reached.

However, Goode also cautioned that the reasons for the disparities on this round of compact negotiations is the result of tribes being separate and sovereign entities that have a right to tailor agreements that work best for their specific situation.

One of the reasons for the departure in content on the Torres Martinez deal is rooted in the tribe's historical situation. In the early part of the last century levees broke that carried irrigation water from the Colorado River and flooded a vast dry lake basin to form the Salton Sea. A portion of the submerged land belonged to the Torres Martinez tribe who then began a nearly century long struggle to regain their land.

After a series of lawsuits the issue was largely settled after the tribe gained a key ally in Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., who authored legislation on a land settlement deal for the tribe and the bill was made into law by former President Clinton in 2000. Under the terms of the deal, Torres Martinez was allowed to purchase a specifically designated 640-acre tract that could be used for the purposes of gaming.

Additionally the tribe already had a second tract for gaming, thus in effect the tribe will operate two gaming facilities, one located on Highway 86 in Imperial County, and the other north of the current reservation on Interstate10, in Riverside County.

The Imperial County site will house 350 machines and the Riverside County site will house 1,650. Under the terms of the compact the tribe will pay a percentage of their net win on the Imperial County site directly to the state's general fund. Previous compacts had only required payments into two special funds set up by the tribes to compensate local governments for infrastructure improvements and also to share with non-gaming tribes and those with small operations.

The payments to the state's general fund will increase incrementally over the first three years of operations. In the first year Torres Martinez will pay 3 percent of their net win to the state, which will increase to 4 percent in the second year and 5 percent by the third.

Torres Martinez has been attempting to enter into a gaming agreement for the last few years and were delayed after Gov. Davis announced a freeze on gaming compacts in 2001. Torres Martinez became a rallying cry of sorts for supporters of tribal gaming.