California | Compacts | Opinion
Column: BIA helps gaming tribes get richer

"If there's one thing California voters pride themselves on, it's their ability to make their own laws via ballot initiatives. A corollary of this is their ability to use popular referenda for vetoing laws passed by elected officials.

So it was perfectly normal when Californians signed enough petitions to spur a popular vote seeking to nix four new gambling compacts approved by state legislators and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year. Those petitions produced Propositions 94 through 97.

But almost as soon as the referenda officially qualified for the Feb. 5 ballot, the federal Interior Department took an action apparently designed to render the vote moot.

Remember, the Department of the Interior, parent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, has rarely declined to allow an Indian tribe to build, operate or expand a casino.

For sure, spokeswoman Nedra Darling of the Bureau of Indian Affairs could offer no solid answers when asked why the compacts were approved before the voters had their say.

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger - who calls himself "the people's governor," pronounced the Interior Department action "good news" even though it may run counter to the wishes of the people.

None of this, of course, has affected the highly-visible campaigns both sides are mounting over the referenda. For as long as no one knows for sure whether the federal action will stand if the compacts are nixed at the polls, neither side feels it can take a chance on losing.

But one thing is clear: An Interior Department that has consistently been allied with the richest casino Indian tribes now seeks to let the rich get even richer, saying in effect that decisions of the voters simply don't matter.

Ultimately, it may be up to the courts to decide whether the federal agency can get away with that."

Get the Story:
Thomas Elias: Are casino measures moot? (The Long Beach Press-Telegram 1/17)