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California's gaming tribes to meet after rocky year
Friday, January 21, 2005
The year 2004 was a rough one for California's gaming tribes. Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger (R) accused them of "ripping" off the state, pressured
them to share more casino revenues and threatened to take a couple of
them to court for not agreeing with him.
But it was also a positive and hopeful year for many. Several tribes opened or announced
significant expansions of their gaming facilities, which bring in an
estimated $6 billion a year.
And while they lost a major ballot initiative, they defeated another one that
threatened their existence. The polls show that a majority of Californians
still support tribal gaming despite negative press coverage by the local media.
Against this backdrop, the state's largest inter-tribal organization
meets next week in Palm Springs. The California Nations Indian Gaming
Association will hold its 10th annual Western Indian Gaming
Conference the desert city, one that is being shaped
more and more by tribal governments like many others in the state.
With tribal gaming on the rise, CNIGA chairman Anthony Miranda
plans to use the occasion to highlight tribal successes.
He will deliver his second State of the Tribal Nations
address next Wednesday, on the opening of the
"The state of tribal government gaming is stronger than ever,"
Miranda said earlier this month, "but that doesn�t mean that we don't
have a number of continuing challenges we must face as we continue to
use gaming to strengthen tribal governments and provide a wide range of
health, education and other services to our tribal members."
Some of the challenges originate from the state. The conference includes
a discussion about last year's events, which included a small group of
tribes breaking ranks to sign new agreements with Schwarzenegger,
and a forecast of potential threats to sovereignty in the coming year.
Others come from the federal government. A panel ominously titled
"The Fight to Save Class II Gaming" will focus on controversial
regulations forthcoming from the National Indian Gaming Commission.
The classification of games has been a difficult issue nationwide
and was the source of the legal threat by Schwarzenegger.
Practical concerns are also on the agenda. Attendees will discuss
new technologies, fraud, the workforce and casino operations.
Last year's conference was dominated by Schwarzenegger's
demand for a "fair share" of casino revenues. While CNIGA
never adopted a position on the issue, the majority of tribes
refused to sign proposed compacts that some said were too one-sided.
"In exchange for additional slot machines, the state not only was
seeking a share of tribal government revenues that went far beyond
the existing corporate tax rate, but it was demanding deep
concessions in the sovereign right of tribes to govern our own affairs,"
Deron Marquez, the chairman of the
San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, wrote in a column published
in Indian Country Today
Schwarzenegger kept up the pressure when CNIGA and other
tribes endorsed an initiative on the November ballot
that countered his compacts.
They also fought a rival initiative sponsored by the
racetrack and card club industry, pouring millions
into the campaign.
Both ended up being rejected overwhelmingly by state voters.
All told, the affair cost more than $100 million and
was considered the most expensive in state history.
In the coming year, tribes will likely face more pressure
to deal with Schwarzenegger. But he has already backtracked
on the amount of revenues expected from his new deals.
Another hot-button issue -- one that is not on the conference
agenda -- is the growing number of tribes seeking casinos
in urban areas, a trend most evident in the Bay Area,
where at least four tribes are pitching off-reservation
deals. Schwarzenegger was heavily criticized for signing
a deal for a massive facility there.
The conference runs from January 26-27 at the
Palm Springs Convention Center. CNIGA tribes will hold
a membership meeting on the following day.
California Nations Indian Gaming Association - http://www.cniga.com
Arnold Schwarzenegger - http://www.governor.ca.gov/state/govsite/gov_homepage.jsp
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