Four propositions on the Feb. 5 California Presidential Primary ballot—Propositions 94, 95, 96, 97—all deal with identical issues, attempts by citizen groups to overturn recent amendments to gambling compacts between the administration of Governor Ar-nold Schwarzenegger and four individual Native American tribes.
The main thing distinguishing the four propositions is that each involves a separate tribe. The negotiated gambling compact amendments themselves are similar.
The gambling compacts allowing some forms of gambling on Native American lands in California were originally with 58 tribes in 1999. In 2007, Governor Schwarzenegger negotiated amendments with four of these tribes. Three of them involved tribe-owned casinos in Riverside County—the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians—and one in San Diego County—the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation.
In each of these compacts, the governor agreed to allow the tribes an expanded number of slot machines. In return, the tribes agreed to pay the state an increased amount of annual revenue.
The state legislature ratified the compacts in 2007, after which groups opposing the compacts put the ratification propositions on the February, 2008 ballot.
Because the propositions are a referendum on the compacts themselves, the yes and no votes can be a little confusing. The opponents of the compact amendments—who put the propositions on the ballot—want you to vote “no” on the propositions, because that will mean a rejection of the compact amendments, and the number of allowed slot machines and the state payments will remain the same as they are under the original 1999 agreements. The supporters of the compact amendments want you to vote “yes” on the propositions, because that will ratify the compact amendments and put them in effect.
Proposition 94—Increase the number of slot machines operated by the Pechanga Band of Riverside County from the current 2,000 to 7,500. Increase the annual payment to the state from the current $29 million to at least $44.5 million.
Proposition 95—Slot machines for the Morongo Band of Riverside County up from 2,000 to 7,500; annual payment to the state up from $29 million to at least $38.7 million.
Proposition 96—Slot machines for the Sycuyan Tribe of San Diego County up from 2,000 to 5,000; annual payment to the state up from $5 million to at least $23 million.
Proposition 97—Slot machines for the Agua Caliente Tribe of Riverside County up from 2,000 to 5,000; annual payment to the state up from $13 million to at least $25.4 million.
In each proposed compact, annual payments to the state would increase with increased revenue to the tribes from the slot machines.
Each of the four compacts call for a significant increase in the number of allowable slot machines in each of the casinos run by the respective Native American tribes. In addition, each of the compacts provides for a significant increase in payments from the respective tribes to the state, payments which the governor had been counting on to help fill the pending state budget gap.
Voters who support increased gambling in the state will have no problem with these propositions. They will vote yes on all of them.
Voters who are generally opposed to gambling and casino operations, but who are also concerned about the state’s budget problems, will have a more difficult choice.
Is keeping down the number of gambling options in California more important, or is solving the state’s fiscal problem more important? Will these compacts be the end of the proposed slot machine expansion, or will they be a prelude to new requests for more slot machines in the future?
None of these questions are answered in the voter information guide or the various ballot arguments for or against. Instead, they are decisions that have to be worked out by individual voters themselves.