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Pala, Card Rooms, Labor May Seek Statewide Referendum on Casino Pacts

American Indian gaming compacts that were recently sealed in Sacramento may be in for a challenge at the polls.

Signed July 10 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the new compacts could dramatically increase the number of slot machines in casinos operated by four Southern California tribes, including the Sycuan and Pechanga bands.

But the compacts are not sitting well with some onlookers.

One local band, the Pala Band of Mission Indians, is mulling whether to join a coalition that plans to challenge the new deals at the ballot box, a tribal spokesman said last week. He also said one Northern California tribe may join the fight.

According to published reports, the coalition includes organized labor, urban card rooms and other tribes. As of July 25, the group had not filed papers to seek a referendum.

If the coalition can successfully gather signatures, it will put a referendum against the new deals on the Feb. 5 presidential primary ballot. Referendum sponsors must gather 434,000 valid signatures to put their issue on the ballot, according to the state attorney general’s office.

Under one of the compacts signed July 10, the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation could expand its 2,000-slot machine casino to 5,000 slots. Sycuan has its reservation east of El Cajon, and could build a second casino.

The casino operated by the Pechanga Band of Luise & #324;o Indians could grow even larger , to 7,500 slots , under the new deal. Though in Riverside County, Pechanga is significant because it’s within easy driving distance of Pala. Each casino-resort complex affects the other’s business.


Pollsters Take Pulse

Two privately funded polls may foreshadow another state ballot fight over American Indian gaming.

– & #8201;The Pechanga band released results of a poll July 18 that found that California voters overwhelmingly favor the new compacts. Some 69 percent said they favored keeping the agreements, while 22 percent said they favored repeal.

Pollsters from Santa Monica-based Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates checked in with 800 high-propensity California voters July 15 and 16. The margin for error on the poll was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

– & #8201;The California Tribal Business Alliance, which represents Pala and five other tribes, released poll numbers indicating that the electorate is split. The poll, conducted two weeks before the Pechanga poll, found 47 percent of the voters support the new compacts, while 45 percent oppose them.

Pollsters from Washington-based Green & #173;berg Quinlan Rosner Research conducted a statewide survey by telephone, contacting 810 likely voters. As with the other survey, the margin for error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Pollsters also asked their questions before the state Assembly had signed off on the compacts.

The California Tribal Business Alliance, which commissioned the earlier poll, includes two other San Diego County tribes with casinos: the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians and the Pauma Band of Luise & #324;o Indians. All have compacts signed in 2004 by Schwarzenegger.

Terms of the 2004 compacts are different from those in the compacts OK’d this month. But both the 2004 and 2007 deals let their signatories exceed the 2,000-slot machine limit imposed in 1999 by then-Gov. Gray Davis. The Schwarzenegger deals send more money to the state government, though the percentage of money allocated to the state under the 2004 deals differs from the percentage under the 2007 deals.

Other provisions , such as the role of organized labor , differ in the 2004 and 2007 deals.

Two other Riverside County tribes get to expand under the 2007 compacts. They are the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, which may now have up to 7,500 slot machines, and the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians, which may now have up to 5,000 slot machines. The two bands run casinos in or near Palm Springs.

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