Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
Written by MARC COOPER
One of the most powerful Indians gets his way — again "Truth be told," mused a chastened and philosophical Tony Soprano after a near-death experience early in his just-concluded sixth onscreen season, "there's enough garbage for everybody." Well, not exactly. Apparently, some wish to plain hog the trough all for themselves, even when it's provided to them through public largesse.
Take the case of Richard Milanovich, chairman of the fabulously wealthy Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. You remember that crew, don't you, from their $70 million, unsuccessful foray into California-ballot politics a few years back. (They bankrolled a proposition to defeat Arnold's proposal for imposing fair taxes on the tribes.) This is the 400-member tribe that owns 50 percent of Palm Springs' land, is its biggest landlord, and operates two massive casinos — that is, when the tribe isn't out breaking labor unions.
These guys were also the primary California clients of disgraced scandalmeister Jack Abramoff and his co-conspirator Michael Scanlon, having paid them $10 million to bend some U.S. Postal Service and IRS rules in the tribe's favor and, maybe, to help muscle out some potential Indian competitors.
After Abramoff got busted, Milanovich appeared before a gathering of other Indian gaming tribes (the sort of meeting that evokes the scene of Michael Corleone and Meyer Lansky huddling with Batista in GFII), and said he was sorry for all the bad PR this connection had brought to the rest of the boys. "It really pains me; it hurts me to know the fallout from that is affecting all of Indian country," Milanovich told his fellow casino operators, perhaps even biting his lower lip. "I apologize to each and every one of you." Since then, Milanovich has been parading around as an aggrieved victim of Abramoff's shakedown operation, making himself available as an eager witness for the resulting congressional probe.
But this might as well be Tony apologizing to Carm for his indiscretions and vowing, now, to forever stay loyal. For Milanovich's tribe is every bit as much victimizer as victim, and the only legit complaint it might have against Abramoff is that he overcharged the tribe. Indeed, Milanovich required no coaching last week as he eagerly appeared before a state Assembly committee in his attempt to block some needy Indians' access to the same money-minting gaming license he was handed by well-meaning but muddle-minded voters when they legalized Indian casinos last decade.
The committee was hearing an innovative proposal fashioned by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that would have allowed the Big Lagoon tribe from Humboldt County and the dirt-poor Los Coyotes tribe from the deserts east of San Diego to build twin casinos in down-on-its heels Barstow. The Big Lagoon's tribal lands are in an ecologically sensitive area in Northern California, and the Los Coyotes' reservation is too barren and remote to support a casino. So the governor thought it would be a "creative solution" to let the two groups open up shop in Barstow, a town with one-third of its population on welfare and in need of some added revenue. Everyone would be happy. Except, of course, Milanovich.
What ticked him off wasn't just the added competition (after all, his two casinos in the Palm Springs area are nowhere near the Barstow site). Nope, what got the chairman's ire worked up were the terms of the agreement proposed by Arnold. In exchange for opening the two new gambling palaces, the tribes had agreed to pay the state between 16 percent and 25 percent of their take, and had also agreed to allow their casino workers to unionize.
Well, if there's anything Chairman Milanovich hates most, it's taxes and unions. He may be an Indian chief, but he's also a longtime Republican who has given more than $100,000 in personal contributions to the president. The sweetheart gaming deal he signed with former Governor Davis exempted his tribe from paying any tax on its casino revenue. And for more than three years Milanovich has spent a stack of dough trying to block a unionization drive in his own casinos. His tribe is itching to expand its own gaming operations but refuses to accept Schwarzenegger's demand that approval be contingent on paying a fair tax and permitting unionization.
Milanovich not only vigorously lobbied the Assembly committee against granting these two other tribes the same favors he's been given, but he backed his argument with cold, hard cash. Committee Chairman Jerome Horton (D-Los Angeles) received more than $25,000 from the Agua Caliente and allied tribes for his recent unsuccessful primary run for a seat on the State Board of Equalization. The same tribes also forked over $90,000 for an independent committee that backed Horton's campaign. Money talks and unconnected Indians walk. The committee voted 7-2 to block the Barstow deal.
Milanovich made no bones about his motivation in stripping his Indian brothers of their casino dreams. What he feared most was the precedent a deal like that would have established, a deal he feared might later be imposed on his own tribe. "It opens the door to labor. It opens the door to disgruntled city councils to take advantage of the tribes," he said at the committee hearing. "That would put us at such a disadvantage, it would not be worth it to us."
The chairman's remarks, according to press reports, drew a tearful response from Big Lagoon chief Virgil Moorehead, who said he remembered the precasino days when, as a fellow Indian, Chairman Milanovich could be counted as a friend. Milanovich's shamelessness was eclipsed only by his close ally, Vince Duro, vice chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. Duro insisted at the committee hearing that his opposition to the Barstow casinos was based solely on protecting tribal heritage, not his tribe's gambling profits. His tribe's casino, near San Bernardino, is about 50 miles from Barstow, and Duro said the rival casino's proposed site lies in the historic migratory grounds of his ancestors. Don't you love that? His sacred ancestors are okay with him running slot machines and poker games on their own reservation, but wouldn't want any on their migratory trails. Especially if run by another tribe.
"I know the poverty that Los Coyotes sits in," Duro said after the tribe's elderly chief told of members who live without running water or electricity. "I feel for that. I have relatives on the Los Coyotes reservation. But I have to look my children in the eye and tell them I've done what's right in opposing this." In other words, what's right is to guarantee your own kids' inheritance and screw the rest of the chump Indians. Paulie Walnuts would be onboard with that reasoning.
I suppose the only moral redemption in this story has a multicultural tinge — that Indians can be as greedy and ruthless as anyone else, given the opportunity. That in reality, there's never really enough garbage to go around. But on the more practical level, Milanovich's performance this past week should remind us that the $20 billion a year Indian gaming industry is one of the great scams of the past two decades. And that it's not just the Jack Abramoffs and the Richard Scanlons who need to be more closely scrutinized, but also those who were oh so willing to hire them. The state already made one grievous mistake in granting the Agua Caliente and other casino tribes platinum privileges based solely on racial criteria. The error is compounded if we let DNA stand in the way of holding accountable what is now one of the most powerful and arrogant of political lobbies.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 05 July 2006 )
Who's unfair: tribe or union?
An article written three years ago helps put the union issue to rest:
Coin: Tribal businesses pose a threat to hotel industry and union labor
Posted: July 11, 2003
by: Jacob Coin / California Nations Indian Gaming Association
As the date neared for the June opening of the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino, hotel and restaurant, operators surrounding the Madera County, Calif., tribal casino noticed their top employees were making for the exits.
The local International House of Pancakes lost a hostess and a cook. Three other IHOP cooks applied for jobs with the Chukchansi resort but didn't make the grade. The Pines Resort at nearby Bass Lake lost a manager, two food and beverage workers and a security officer. The Tenaya Lodge is losing 15 employees.
"They (the tribe) offer more money," IHOP manager Bobbie Riding told The Fresno Bee newspaper. "They offer benefits, insurance and vacation. You can't blame them," she said of departing employees.
The growth of the tribal government gaming industry is generating some healthy competition for the non-Indian restaurant and hospitality industries, both in California and throughout the country. The growth of tribal casinos also is aggravating an already testy relationship between California tribes and one of the nation's most powerful labor organization, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HERE).
Tribal government gaming is California's fastest growing industry in terms of job growth, according to state Employment Development Department figures released in June. Tribes employ 37,200 workers, according to EDD figures, an annual growth rate of 12 percent at a time when every other private and public sector employer in the state is losing jobs.
An annual University of Nevada, Las Vegas, survey shows that California tribes provide better wages and benefits than tribal gaming operations in other states. And wage and benefits data compiled by the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) show that tribal government wages and benefits are equal or better than those offered by the more upscale hotel corporations.
"The figures stack up very well for the tribes," says Rick Salinas, assistant general manager for the Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino near San Diego. "Employees will get as good a wage and benefits package with the tribal governments as they would get at a major, upscale hotel company. I'm looking at Marriott, Hyatt, Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton. I'm talking high end, respected chains that have a good product."
The dispute between HERE and California tribes began in 1998, when HERE fought attempts by tribes to engage in gaming on Indian lands. HERE contested gaming referendums first at the ballot box and later in federal court. The fight against Proposition 5 was, in fact, led by HERE and bankrolled by Nevada casino companies, which employ 50,000 of HERE's 250,000 workers.
When tribal-state compacts were eventually agreed to in 1999, HERE again flexed its muscles. As a condition for state approval of compacts allowing tribes to operate slot machines and house-banked table games, union-backed Gov. Gray Davis required tribes to agree to a model Tribal Labor Relations Ordinance. The TLRO allows union representatives access to tribal lands and requires that a secret ballot election be conducted before employees can organize for the purpose of collective bargaining.
"The TLRO was a major concession on the part of California's tribal governments," says San Rafael attorney George Foreman.
But the labor concessions agreed to by California tribes apparently did not satisfy HERE. The international union has in the last 20 to 30 years failed in its attempts to organize workers through the democratic process of a secret ballot election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. It has instead convinced Nevada casino operators opening new properties to permit organization of workers through a "card check" system.
"Other labor unions have been able to organize workers through a secret ballot election," Foreman says, including the Communication Workers of America (CWA), which represents employees for the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians and the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians. "The card check system is a HERE thing."
Frustrated in its efforts to organize California workers, HERE has launched a political and public relations campaign aimed at portraying tribal governments as ruthless, exploitive employers in an effort to convince state legislators to amend compacts and the TLRO to allow the card check system for tribal operations.
"They couldn't come in through the front door so they're trying to come in through the back door," said Anthony Miranda, vice president of the development corporation for the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians.
A history of controversy
HERE has targeted much of its media campaign at the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The union has used unsubstantiated allegations and a university survey based on a small number of tribal workers in an effort to show that the tribal government is providing inadequate wages and benefits. The union also has inferred that all California tribes are abusing their legal status as sovereign governments to keep wages and benefits below industry standards.
But wages and benefits at the Agua Caliente casino and other tribal gaming operations in California are excellent. The issue between HERE and the tribes has nothing whatsoever to do with pay and benefits. It has absolutely nothing to do with working conditions at tribal government casinos.
The dispute has everything to do with adhering to the wording of the TLRO and the tribal-state compacts. Tribes are respecting the government-to-government relationship and the agreement reached with the state of California and organized labor. The union wants to break that agreement.
HERE also is displaying a lack of respect for the sovereign status of tribal governments. The union once indicated a willingness to enter into an alliance with tribal governments similar to that it has enjoyed with Nevada casino companies. But until HERE respect tribes as governments, and they do not, there cannot be that sort of alliance.
A dark history
HERE has a history of involvement with organized crime and less than three years ago was being supervised by a federal court appointed monitor. Corrupt union locals in New York City and Atlantic City, N.J., were placed under federal controls. The union's health and welfare plan has also been plagued by mismanagement.
Tribal government casinos are the most highly regulated segment of the legal gambling industry. Yet there are constant accusations from politicians and the press that there is a lack of sufficient regulation of gaming in Indian country. With this type of media scrutiny, it may not be wise for tribal gaming commissions responsible for investigating and licensing labor organizations to issue a finding of suitability for HERE.
"I can certainly imagine a licensing entity looking at the history of the organization and (deciding) ? all of those things taken together might be a basis for determination of unsuitability," Foreman says.
Tribal governments are not anti-union. Organized labor is used in much of the rapid economic development taking place on Indian lands. And the Communication Workers of America has been embraced by tribal governments in its representation of gaming and hotel employees.
Jacob L. Coin is executive director of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, an association of more than 50 Indian nations in the state. He is a member of the Hopi Indian Tribe, Tobacco Clan, from the Village of Kykotmovi in Arizona.
And I'll help put the other issues to rest.
>> They bankrolled a proposition to defeat Arnold's proposal for imposing fair taxes on the tribes. <<
No, the Agua Caliente bankrolled Proposition 70, which would have increased their payments in return for a 99-year compact. It had nothing to do with any proposal by Schwarzenegger to impose fair taxes.
In fact, taxing Indian tribes is illegal, since tribes are sovereign entities. And Schwarzenegger hasn't tried to impose a tax since he campaigned on a platform of Indians paying their "fair share."
Moreover, "fair" is in the eye of the beholder. Paying a voluntary amount equal to the amount paid by card clubs and other California businesses would've been fair. But since the voters didn't go for that—mostly because of the opposition of naysayers like Cooper—the state got nothing. Tribes like Agua Caliente continue to operate under their existing compacts without paying substantial fees.
>> These guys were also the primary California clients of disgraced scandalmeister Jack Abramoff and his co-conspirator Michael Scanlon, having paid them $10 million to bend some U.S. Postal Service and IRS rules in the tribe's favor and, maybe, to help muscle out some potential Indian competitors. <<
I don't know what Cooper's referring to when he mentions bending Postal Service and IRS rules. Perhaps he's making it up. As for competitors, Agua Caliente already has competitors in the area. They're not worried about more competitors and there's been no talk of any other tribe opening a casino nearby. Cooper even admits this later on, so his claim is phony.
>> After Abramoff got busted, Milanovich appeared before a gathering of other Indian gaming tribes (the sort of meeting that evokes the scene of Michael Corleone and Meyer Lansky huddling with Batista in GFII) <<
Indians as mobsters...wow, how original.
>> For Milanovich's tribe is every bit as much victimizer as victim, and the only legit complaint it might have against Abramoff is that he overcharged the tribe. <<
Actually, according to Cooper, Agua Caliente is only a victimizer and not at all a victim. That's because Cooper's article is badly biased. If he thinks he's being evenhanded with statements like this...well, he isn't.
>> The committee was hearing an innovative proposal fashioned by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that would have allowed the Big Lagoon tribe from Humboldt County and the dirt-poor Los Coyotes tribe from the deserts east of San Diego to build twin casinos in down-on-its heels Barstow. <<
"Innovative"...that's one word for it. Another is "reservation shopping." I guess Cooper is in favor of reservation shopping, since he speaks so fondly of this rez-shopping proposal. Odd to see a gaming opponent come out for casinos in every city that needs them. Cooper must be one of the muddle-minded Californians he referred to earlier.
>> Everyone would be happy. Except, of course, Milanovich. <<
Wrong. Actually, several tribes who have no stake in the Barstow area opposed this plan for the same reasons Milanovich. Namely, because the Barstow compact would've infringed on tribal sovereignty. These tribes rightly fear that they wouldn't have the clout to resist the imposition of similar compacts in the future.
>> What ticked him off wasn't just the added competition (after all, his two casinos in the Palm Springs area are nowhere near the Barstow site). <<
Here's some muddle-minded writing to go with Cooper's muddle-minded thinking. If Agua Caliente's casinos don't compete with Barstow, there's no "added competition" whatsoever. In other words, the phrase "What ticked him off wasn't just the added competition" is contradicted by the very next phrase in parentheses.
>> Nope, what got the chairman's ire worked up were the terms of the agreement proposed by Arnold. <<
This may be the first accurate thing Cooper's written. So Milanovich's opposition had nothing to do with blocking the access of needy tribes to gaming. It had to do with protecting tribal sovereignty for future generations of Indians.
>> The sweetheart gaming deal he signed with former Governor Davis exempted his tribe from paying any tax on its casino revenue. <<
Again, taxes on tribes are illegal.
No one knew Indian gaming was going to be successful when California's tribes signed the first compacts. At the time, the deals looked like they were good for the state. They certainly weren't sweetheart deals, with Davis giving away something he knew he shouldn't have.
>> Committee Chairman Jerome Horton (D-Los Angeles) received more than $25,000 from the Agua Caliente and allied tribes for his recent unsuccessful primary run for a seat on the State Board of Equalization. The same tribes also forked over $90,000 for an independent committee that backed Horton's campaign. <<
All that money apparently didn't do much good, since Horton lost. So much for the stereotype of Indians buying control of the state capital.
Money talks, critic squawks
>> Money talks and unconnected Indians walk. The committee voted 7-2 to block the Barstow deal. <<
Hm-mm. And how much did Agua Caliente give to the other six legislators who voted against the deal? Or did these six actually vote their conscience—because they agreed the deals were bad for Indians?
>> Milanovich made no bones about his motivation in stripping his Indian brothers of their casino dreams. <<
That's one way of putting it. Another is that if these tribes had negotiated a better deal with the state, Milanovich wouldn't have opposed it. Which means that Cooper's talk of Milanovich fearing competition is a sham. As is the "Chief Greedovich" headline of this article.
>> Milanovich's shamelessness was eclipsed only by his close ally, Vince Duro, vice chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. <<
It's "shameless" to protect your people from the unconstitutional incursions of state and local governments? Another example of Cooper's muddle-minded thinking and writing.
>> Duro insisted at the committee hearing that his opposition to the Barstow casinos was based solely on protecting tribal heritage, not his tribe's gambling profits. <<
Yep. But if San Manuel did want to protect its gaming profits, there would be nothing wrong with that. In case Cooper hasn't heard, it's the American way to maximize one's profits at the expense of the competition.
>> His sacred ancestors are okay with him running slot machines and poker games on their own reservation, but wouldn't want any on their migratory trails. <<
Duro's ancestors probably want San Manuel to protect whatever resources lie within its historic territory, just as every tribe has done throughout history. Before the resources tended to be animals or plants, but these days they're gaming revenues. So? One was the basis for the Indian economy then and the other is the basis for the Indian economy now.
>> In other words, what's right is to guarantee your own kids' inheritance and screw the rest of the chump Indians. <<
"Screw the rest of the chump Indians" when they sign bad deals that threaten the future of all Indians, maybe.
>> I suppose the only moral redemption in this story has a multicultural tinge — that Indians can be as greedy and ruthless as anyone else, given the opportunity. <<
I suppose. That is, if it's greedy to oppose a 25% tax when 8.8% is the norm for companies in your line of business. And if it's ruthless to contribute to politicians who support your position, the same as a hundred other industries do in the state.
>> But on the more practical level, Milanovich's performance this past week should remind us that the $20 billion a year Indian gaming industry is one of the great scams of the past two decades. <<
Hm-mm. Is that why Californians continue to support it in overwhelming numbers? Or is it because gaming has successfully raised tribes that were downtrodden, exactly as its proponents intended?
>> The state already made one grievous mistake in granting the Agua Caliente and other casino tribes platinum privileges based solely on racial criteria. <<
Tribes are political entities, not racial entities. They have gaming rights because they have a government-to-government relationship with the federal and state governments.
By "the state," Cooper means the voters. Darn those dumb voters for supporting Indians in 1998 and 2000 and continuing to support them today, even when elitists like Cooper know better.
Anytime the voters want to open up gaming to non-Indians, they can. They had a chance with Proposition 68 in 2004 and they voted overwhelmingly against it.
The facts about Indian gaming—corruption
The facts about tribal sovereignty
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