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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

From the LA Times, 11/25/03:


California Must Hedge Its Bet
State should demand a new deal on its Indian casino agreements.

By Brett D. Fromson

Californians are beginning to realize that casino gambling has not been a great bet for them. While more than 50 — and counting — casino tribes are grossing an estimated $5 billion a year, they contribute less than 5% to government coffers or to noncasino tribes. Yet everyone in California is burdened with the increasing social costs of tribal gambling: from traffic control to crime fighting, environmental degradation and liability suits.

In light of this, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger must renegotiate the gambling compacts struck between the tribes and the state so that they serve not only the interests of the tribes but all 34 million Californians.

Schwarzenegger should take a warning from my home state, Connecticut. We charge our two casino tribes 25% of their slot machine revenues to do business in the state. That's close to $400 million a year. But even so, Connecticut is working to curtail Indian gaming and grappling with the damage the casinos are inflicting on surrounding towns and cities. We have seen a significant rise in pathological gambling among men, women and teenagers, in gambling-related suicides, bad debts and petty and major crimes, to say nothing of traffic congestion, loss of local tax revenue, loss of zoning and environmental control and declining residential property values.

Indian casinos were allowed in Connecticut for much the same reason they were let into California — historical guilt. Citizens and political leaders felt empathy for the downtrodden and thought gambling was an easy fix.

In Connecticut, officials mistakenly believed that by giving the Pequots a monopoly on slots, in exchange for 25% of the winnings, the state could limit the spread of gambling. Under the terms of the deal, if the state allowed non-Indian casinos, the Pequots could stop payments. This has, so far, kept non-Indian gambling illegal, but meanwhile, tribal casinos are proliferating. Today, the Pequots' Foxwoods Casino has been joined by the nearby Mohegan Sun Casino — they are, respectively, the two largest in the world — and another 13 or so Indian bands are seeking a piece of the action.

The state government seems to be permanently on the defensive against those increases — and against the law of unintended consequences. As one of the Pequots' lead attorneys told me: "Never underestimate the ignorance of your opponents. People can be real stupid sometimes."

Particularly disturbing to people in Connecticut has been the erosion of state and local control. Newly emboldened with gambling money, the tribes have aggressively sought to expand their reservations by petitioning the federal government to take more land into trust for them. Long before California's Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante got a dime from his state's tribes, the tribes in Connecticut were showering campaign contributions on politicians and hiring as lobbyists just about every former federal, state and local official of any consequence. In Connecticut, people have learned that the phrase "sovereign rights" translates to "special interests."

Sadly, the social costs of Indian gambling in California will be even greater than in Connecticut, if for no other reason than that California has so many more tribes and so many more casinos. The good news is that the potential revenue is larger as well.

The new pacts that are negotiated with the tribes should increase state and local governments' share of revenue until it matches the actual costs of law enforcement, regulation and environmental mitigation at the casinos themselves and covers harder-to-quantify costs — the effect on local schools, highway repair and even the creation of programs to deal with problem gambling.

But how to get the tribes to negotiate, given that the primary compacts have 18 years to run? There is talk of an initiative, backed by friends of the governor but not directly tied to him, that would force the tribes to come back to the table or face competition in the form of slot machines added to racetracks and card clubs in California. Or the governor could immediately propose an even broader legalization of gambling in the state.

Either approach should do the trick. The last thing the tribes want is competition, whether it comes from slot machines at the horse tracks or new non-Indian casinos managed by the same folks who brought you the Bellagio and the Venetian in Las Vegas.

Once the tribes come to the table, Schwarzenegger needs to make sure that the public understands that the costs of gambling are real and significant — after all, the state's voters approved tribal gaming. That support has given a negotiating advantage to the Indians.

And the governor has to put the right person in charge of making a deal. He has one good candidate: Warren Buffett — investor, consultant, dealmaker and part-time Californian. No one is savvier than Buffett. He once told me that if you are playing poker and you don't know who the patsy is, you're the patsy.

California, get to the table, and don't be a patsy.

Responses to Fromson
From the LA Times, 11/30/03:

Don't See Gaming as Another Mother Lode

In suggesting tribes do not contribute enough to California coffers, Brett Fromson ("California Must Hedge Its Bet," Commentary, Nov. 25) ignores federal law and the intent of Congress in enacting the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. He also ignores the fact that tribes pay hundreds of millions of dollars a year to state and local governments to help alleviate the impact of tribal casinos on Indian lands. The regulatory act was intended to help Indian nations develop strong tribal governments and build tribal economies. It was not enacted to bail states out of fiscal calamities that were not created by Native Americans.

Frank Ducheneaux, former counsel to the U.S. Committee on the Interior and Insular Affairs and co-author of the act, said in a speech in Sacramento earlier this month that state governments had "hijacked" tribal sovereignty in their efforts to extract revenue from gaming on Indian lands.

Fromson also suggests that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger look to Connecticut for guidance, noting that the state extracts 25% of slot revenues from the tribal gaming operations. He fails to note that Connecticut tribes have tribal-state compacts that allow them to operate casinos in perpetuity. California tribes have 20-year compacts.

Brenda Soulliere
Chairwoman, California Nations Indian Gaming Assn.


In his misguided attempt to shift responsibility for the state's financial mess to Indian gaming, Fromson implies that Native Americans owe us something. Let's have a brief refresher course: In the year 1845, there were over 150,000 Native Americans living in California (already reduced from 300,000 about 70 years earlier). In just a 20-year period, the Native Americans were raped, slaughtered and enslaved and had their lands plundered and expropriated by the mad dash of (mostly) white Anglos from the East Coast seeking riches in the California Mother Lode. This invasion reduced the native population to just a few thousand.

Interesting that the original inhabitants of what is now California, who gave up their lives, their land and their way of life, and whose entire culture was destroyed, are, according to the likes of Fromson, supposed to dig deep and give some more.

Carter C. Bravmann
Los Angeles

Rob's comment
As usual in these screeds, Fromson's claims that Indian gaming has caused harm are undocumented. And as usual, Fromson neglects to mention the documented benefits. These one-sided attacks are transparent to those in the industry.

As for Fromson's "special interests" argument, Arnold Schwarzenegger beat him to it by three months. See Schwarzenegger Claims Indian Tribes Are "Special Interests" for more on the subject.

Related links
Have gaming tribes bought California for $120 million?  No
The critics of Indian gaming—and why they're wrong

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