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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

From the LA Times, 6/2/01:

Tribes Deal a Tough Hand to California's Card Clubs

Gaming: Glitzy casinos are strong competition, especially for small operations. Some owners are challenging the legality of Prop. 1A.

By SCOTT GOLD, Times Staff Writer

It's just before midnight. Wrinkled old men sit in wrinkled old chairs, drinking beer and telling lies while they await their next hand of Texas hold 'em poker under a harsh bank of fluorescents at the Lake Elsinore Hotel and Casino.

Almost predictably, someone has played Billy Joel's "Piano Man" at the bar, and the words—"the regular crowd shuffles in"—float into the card club. Many will play poker until dawn, then shuffle off to the adjacent hotel, where they've earned the players rate: $12 a night.

Two hours later, about 56 miles to the east, the neon glitz of the Morongo Casino beckons a very different crowd. Chili fries have given way to mushroom risotto. Instead of "Piano Man," it's "Life in the Fast Lane." And poker has given way to the plink-plink-plink of slot machines, which, the casino boasts, paid out $420 million in the last year.

It is a tale of two gambling subcultures—California's timeworn and endearing card clubs, and Native American casinos, which are fast becoming, to their fans, something akin to Vegas.

On a business level, the clash between the two cultures is about something a bit simpler: money.

Just a decade ago, there were 454 so-called card clubs in California. Today, there are believed to be fewer than 100—partly because the clubs' regular crowd is getting old, partly because government regulations have become too unwieldy for mom-and-pop three-table clubs, and, more recently, because of the widening impact of Native American gambling.

Last year's ballot initiative, Proposition 1A, amended the California Constitution to allow Native Americans to offer slot machines and other Vegas-style games at their casinos. That is expected, in coming years, to revolutionize Native American gambling—and card club owners across the state fear that they will be run out of business.

In February, a coalition of Bay Area card clubs filed a federal lawsuit challenging the legality of Proposition 1A. The lawsuit charges that California has created an illegal monopoly by allowing Native Americans to offer games no one else can, and argues that the ballot initiative violates equal-protection law by segregating the rules of gambling along ethnic lines.

"We're going to be wiped out by the tribes," said Haig Kelegian, a part owner of three card clubs in Commerce, Bell Gardens and Oceanside.

"The lawsuit has been interpreted as being against Indian gaming, and we're not. But we think it's unfair that Indian gaming interests can have Nevada-style, full gaming while we're stuck not being able to do any of those things. You can't compete with businesses that have a product you can't deliver."

Native American leaders say the card clubs are missing a crucial point: Indian bands are sovereign nations, and are entitled to operate under very different rules than non-Native American casino owners.

Rob's comment
The Indians are correct and the Anglos aren't. A sovereign nation like the Morongo band is no more an ethnic group than Mexico, Italy, or China is. A nation may contain one ethnic group, in theory, but there's no necessary connection between the political entity and an ethnic group.

Related links
The facts about tribal sovereignty
The facts about Indian gaming

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