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Lawmaker Pushes Bill to Increase Slot Machines

On paper, the state of California and 61 American Indian tribes agreed in 1999 that each tribe may operate up to 2,000 Nevada-style slot machines.

In practice, not all can have that many.

The state implemented its historic 1999 gambling deals with a licensing system that makes licenses relatively scarce , scarce enough that some tribes can’t reach their 2,000-machine ceilings.

Now a state legislator is working to expand the number of licenses.

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State Sen. Jim Battin, R-Palm Desert, introduced a bill Feb. 13 that would help casinos with fewer than 2,000 slot machines get licenses for the full 2,000.

The group includes the Valley View Casino near Valley Center, run by the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians.

Patrons at Valley View have their choice of 1,750 machines. Some 1,500 are Nevada-style machines.

The balance is bingo machines, which differ from Nevada-variety slots in several ways. One major difference is that with bingo machines, a group of players compete against each other, not against the house. The advantage of having bingo machines, from the tribes’ point of view, is the state cannot set a limit on the number of those machines a tribe may have.


Not As Attractive

Because of those differences, many casino visitors don’t find them as attractive as Nevada-style slots.

The tribe has sued the state to let it have 2,000 Nevada-style machines, according to Joe Navarro, chief executive of San Pasqual Casino Development Group Inc. A federal judge dismissed the case in February 2007, according to Navarro. Valley View has since taken its case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Sacramento-based California Nations Indian Gaming Association filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of San Pasqual, according to Susan Jensen, the organization’s director of communications.

The Battin bill would address the problem San Pasqual is suing over, Jensen says.

Battin’s bill, SB 1201, calls for making 122,000 slot machine licenses available.

“It’s going to be a very difficult bill,” Battin said.

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