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Sycuan Gaming Compact Up for Vote on Super Tuesday

The battle over four Indian gaming propositions on next week’s ballot has cost well over $150 million. KPBS reporter Alison St John has more on one of those propositions: Prop. 96. That’s the refere

Sycuan Gaming Compact Up for Vote on Super Tuesday

The battle over four Indian gaming propositions on next week’s ballot has cost  well over $150 million. KPBS reporter Alison St John has more on one of those propositions: Prop. 96. That’s the referendum on the gaming compact between Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and San Diego’s Sycuan Indian Band.

The two lane road that leads east out of El Cajon to Sycuan winds down though a scenic valley. It passes the Singing Hills golf course, now known as the Sycuan Resort, and arrives at the stately entrance of the casino. 

Sycuan Spokesman Adam Day says the tribe’s new compact, negotiated with Governor Schwarzenegger, is significantly different from the one they negotiated in 1999. This compact would allow Sycuan to more than double the number of slot machines, but the tribe must pay a bigger share of their winnings to the state.

Day: When we negotiated out original compact with Governor Davis, if you remember back then in 1999, the state had a surplus so he didn’t ask for any money. (Back then money wasn’t even discussed.) Fast forward to where we are today. -- The state’s got a $14 billion deficit that was Governor Schwarzenegger’s number one priority.

Day says the state could get a billion dollars from the Sycuan compact alone over the next 20 years.  

In TV ads supporting the Indian gaming propositions, Governor Schwarzenegger says the payout for California from all four tribal compacts is vital  to help close the states’ staggering budget deficit.

Schwarzenegger Ad: We just reached a historic bipartisan agreement with the California Indian gaming tribes and that will mean billions and billion of dollars over the next two decades.

Parkhurst: That’s’ a good sound.

Kelly Parkhurst of El Cajon has been playing the slots at Sycuan for several hours.

Parkhurst: I think the most I’ve ever won is $8,000, I’ve spent way more than that. My room mate -- she’s spent her $265,000 plus already. Crazy -- there’s a real addiction here though.

But the risk of feeding gambling addictions by  expanding casinos  is not what is fueling the opposition  to the new compacts  . Former Governor Gray Davis’s priority was limiting gaming, but that has gone by the wayside in the face of severe financial need .

Now, opposition to the compacts -- and the ads --  is  mainly bankrolled by competitors, including a  major race track owner, and two tribes.  San Diego’s Pala band has budgeted $10 million for TV ads like this.

AD: It’s unfair to let four powerful tribes control a third of the Indian gaming pot . . .  please negotiate a better deal that’s fair to all tribes.

Sycuan’s Adam Day dismisses these arguments

Day: Their opposition is purely motivated by greed and competition.This is simply about them stifling competition.

But the Pala band says there is bigger issue and that’s accountability. Pala also has a contract that allows them to increase their slot machines if they pay more money to the state. But the State audits their winnings.

Under the new compacts,  the four tribes, including Sycuan, will estimate their own profits without a state audit. This lack of oversight also bothers San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob .

Jacob: Show me the money.

Jacob says the compacts negotiated by Schwarzenegger are a bad deal. She says even if the state gets billions over time, local governments like San Diego County were not at the bargaining table.

Jacob: From the County standpoint, from the county that has more tribal reservations that any other county in the state, more gaming casinos on tribal  lands  we have not seen an adequate amount of money to mitigate the impacts, not even close.

Jacob says if Proposition 96 passes, Sycuan could build a second casino down the winding road from El Cajon. The compact would allow it on the Singing Hills golf course, which is not reservation land.

According to California’s Legislative Analyst, the money from the new compacts would fill, at most , only 3 percent of the state’s budget gap in the coming year. But when the governor is proposing  to cut billions from schools, and let thousands of prisoners out of jail  early, even a few hundred million a year is tempting.

AD: No new taxes, no new debt, it’s that simple

But the decision is far from simple. Some voters may decide to vote for compacts that affect tribes in other parts of the state, but against compacts that are closer to home.

Alison St John, KPBS News.

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