Golden State's Gambling Tribes Risk Killing Their 'Golden Goose'
(Updated Sunday, February 19, 2006, 5:25 AM)
Not too many years ago, Indian gaming in California consisted of high-stakes bingo parlors and low-priced buffets. It was enough to encourage people to drive to rural communities like Friant, Lemoore, Jackson and Jamestown for their gambling fix. Still, the Nevada casinos barely acknowledged the existence of these tribal operations.
Today casino operators in Las Vegas and Reno see Indian gaming as a huge threat — so much so that they are now partnering with tribes to build mega-casinos across the Golden State. The Nevada casinos certainly weren't going to see gambling flourish in California and not have a big piece of it.
To Californians, this gambling transition came in a flash — from bingo in what were essentially warehouses to full-blown gambling in glitzy casinos. California voters opened the door by passing initiatives in 1998 and 2000 that expanded Indian gaming. Legal rulings favoring gambling tribes also helped.
Once the legal climate changed, the casino rush came quickly. This is a gambling state and there were few critics, so long as the tribal casinos were in rural areas. But only the naive could think gambling would be contained to out-of-the-way places. There's just too much money in it.
Moving into the cities
Now we are on the verge of the next big political battle over Indian gaming, and the results could determine the future of the enterprise in California. The question is fundamental: Why not build Indian casinos in urban areas closer to the gamblers that frequent them?
A tribe tried to push a casino into a heavily populated part of the San Francisco area. Another casino is being considered in Orange County, not far from Disneyland.
The San Joaquin Valley is facing this issue, too. There's a casino and hotel proposed for Highway 99 in Madera County. If approved, that area would quickly become urban and congested because it would sit on the Valley's main highway.
With all the money at stake, the old rules about Indian gaming don't seem to apply. Build them anywhere, and let the cash roll in. The casinos don't even have to be on tribal land anymore. Their backers have found out how to overcome legal hurdles. Find a good piece of property and push the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to put it in trust. Get state approvals and wheel in the slot machines and blackjack tables.
In 2004, Indian gaming revenue approached $20 billion in the United States, according to the National Indian Gaming Association. More than $6 billion was generated in California, and that would grow substantially if all the proposed casinos are approved.
The casino proposal in Madera County is typical of the new thinking by the tribes and their Nevada partners. Even though the public wants casinos on tribal land in rural areas, the tribes are pushing for more lucrative sites.
The North Fork Rancheria of the Mono Indians teamed with Stations Casinos to persuade Madera County to approve the casino and resort on Highway 99.
Madera County, desperately in need of money, cut a sweet deal with the tribe in exchange for supporting the project. The county would get more than $80 million over 20 years. But there has been a growing backlash against casinos in urban areas. Gambling tribes once had a positive image, but now their aggressiveness has given them a black eye among many Californians.
The Bay Area casino was blocked, even though many of the politicians had appeared to have greased the deal for the tribe.
In Orange County, authorities are trying to stop the casino near Disneyland because of a public outcry. All this hasn't been lost on those involved in the Madera County proposal.
Supporters of the North Fork Rancheria's plan have wisely begun a public relations campaign to persuade doubters that the casino would help tribe members, give a boost to local government funding, create jobs for residents and improve Madera's overall business climate.
But the gambling tribes are playing a dangerous game with their onslaught into the state's urban areas. If casinos are on every corner, the public one day will decide that the tribes shouldn't have the special monopoly that has allowed them to get very rich.
Where would it leave the tribes if California voters in a few years voted to allow anyone with the financial means to build casinos? The Nevada casinos would quickly jettison the tribes, and the competition for the gambling dollar would intensify.
Gambling in California is here to stay. The only question is whether there's going to be a massive realignment of who gets the proceeds. That should worry the gambling tribes. They just might be the biggest losers if casinos continue to proliferate in California.
Jim Boren is The Fresno Bee's editorial page editor. His column appears Sunday. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or write him at 1626 E St., Fresno 93786.
Native Activist Has Published Article
Jean bedell-mashkikinabinais has an article published in the March-April issue of Well Nations Magazine entitled “Whispering Pines”.
The publication is available at www.wellnations.com.
A ' Feel-Good Story' - Not Too Many Come Along
Submitted by Lillian Keller
I don’t know if this story will brighten your day but it sure put a "Happy Face" on mine.-b
If you saw the front page story of the SF Chronicle on Thursday, December 15, 2005, you would have read about a female humpback whale who had become entangled in a spider web of crab traps and lines.
She was weighed down by hundreds of pounds of traps that caused her to struggle to stay afloat. She also had hundreds of yards of line (rope) wrapped around her body -- her tail, her torso, a line tugging in her mouth. A fisherman spotted her just east of the Farallon Islands (outside the Golden Gate) and radioed an environmental group for help. Within a few hours, the rescue team arrived and determined that she was so bad off, the only way to save her was to dive in and untangle her, a very dangerous proposition. One slap of the tail could kill a rescuer.
They worked for hours with curved knives and eventually freed her. When she wasfree, the divers say she swam in what seemed like joyous circles. She then came back to each and every diver, one at a time, and nudged them, pushed
them gently around -- she thanked them.
Some said it was the most incredibly beautiful experience of their lives. The guy who cut the rope out of her mouth says her eye was following him the whole time, and he will never bethe same.
NATIVE UNITY - A place for Native American Peoples to solidify their tribes to make a positive impact on the cultural, social, economic and political fabric of American society and a place for non-Natives to better understand the ways of the American Indian.