A lousy casino deal

OPINION After spending millions in campaign contributions, four of the state’s wealthiest and most powerful tribes — Pechanga, Morongo, Agua Caliente, and Sycuan — have cut themselves sweetheart deals for one of the largest expansions of casino gambling in United States history.

As a California Indian and vice-chairman of the American Indian Rights and Resources Organization, an organization working to protect the civil rights of Native Americans, I am deeply concerned that the deals on the February ballot — Propositions 94, 95, 96, and 97 — benefit four tribes at the expense of other tribes, the workers at these tribes’ casinos, and California taxpayers.

The big four tribes bring in huge profits from their existing casinos and spend heavily to influence state laws. Yet they are eager to deny California voters their right to decide this issue and have fought to keep these deals off the ballot and prevent the voters from having their say. Could it be that the big four tribes know their sweetheart deals may not hold up to voter scrutiny?

Here are a few reasons to vote no on Props. 94, 95, 96, and 97.

Labor unions oppose the measures because the deals would shower four wealthy tribes with billions in profits but fail to ensure the most basic rights for casino workers, including affordable health insurance. A study conducted by David Farris, a University of California at Riverside professor of economics, found that Agua Caliente’s health coverage is so expensive that 56 percent of the dependent children of casino workers are forced into taxpayer-funded health care programs.

In addition, the expansion of tribal gaming in California has seen an increase in the number of human and civil rights violations, especially within tribes that have gaming operations. These abuses have resulted in thousands of disenfranchised Indians being cut off from or denied health care benefits, elder benefits, education assistance, and other social services provided by their tribal governments.

Other tribes also oppose the deals. Just four of California’s 108 tribes would get control over one-third of the state’s Indian gaming pie. The deals would create dominant casinos that could economically devastate smaller tribes and local businesses. Moreover, the big four deals fail to adhere to the purpose and intent of previous gaming initiatives, which led California voters to believe there would be modest casino expansion and that Indian gaming would benefit all California Indians and taxpayers.

The big four deals would give these tribes an additional 17,000 slot machines. That’s more than all of the slots at a dozen big Las Vegas casinos. As a result, California would become home to some of the largest casinos in the world.

While the big four would make billions of dollars from these new deals, promises to taxpayers would fall short. The claims about the amount of money the state would get under these deals are wildly exaggerated, and the state’s independent, nonpartisan legislative analyst called the tribes’ figures unrealistic. In fact, under these deals the big four tribes themselves would determine how much revenue they would pay to the state.

Join labor unions, educators, public safety officials, tribes, taxpayers, senior groups, and civil rights and environmental organizations and vote no on 94, 95, 96, and 97. *

John Gomez Sr.

John Gomez Sr. is vice-chairman of the American Indian Rights and Resources Organization.