Leaders of California Indian tribes Wednesday accused Gov. Pete Wilson of deliberately stalling efforts to expand Indian gaming by refusing to negotiate agreements that would allow slot-type gambling machines on reservations.
They said that despite a federal court ruling allowing the operation of such devices on tribal lands, the governor will not meet with them to discuss permission from the state, which is also required. Fourteen tribes are seeking so-called compacts with California.
Marshall McKay, president of the California-Nevada Indian Gaming Assn. and secretary of the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians, said it is unfair to block the expansion of tribal gambling when the state makes lottery games “available in every convenience center and corner of every city.”
A spokesman for Wilson said the governor has designated Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren to represent him in discussions with the Indians and the governor does not think he should meet with them on the issue until those negotiations have been completed. J. P. Tremblay said the “door would be open for a meeting” after the two sides reach a final agreement.
“It is our understanding that there are still things that need to be settled,” he said. A representative of the attorney general’s office confirmed that the negotiations are still in progress but said she could not comment further.
The Indians gained a major advantage in the negotiations in July when U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. in Sacramento ruled that the tribes were entitled to operate slot-type machines under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which allows them to engage in any gambling activity that is permitted by the state.
The judge said the state opened the way for the Indians’ use of electronic games when the California Lottery introduced keno, a fast-action, Nevada-style game that uses video technology. Even with the federal decision, the act requires a formal agreement with the state before tribes can operate specific games.
Since the judge’s ruling, attorneys for the Indians have described their negotiations with the attorney general as progressing “extremely well” and said Wednesday they believed they had reached agreement on all the major issues. With only a few minor details left to be settled, Howard L. Dickstein said it was time for the governor, who is the only official who can legally sign the compacts for the state, to start talking with them directly.
He said the Indians had made several compromises, including their agreements to allow local law enforcement on reservations to monitor gambling activities, to permit the Department of Justice to conduct background checks on key employees and officials and to use some gambling profits to help pay for health programs for Indians which are now financed by the state.
Dickstein said the governor, however, appears to be adamantly opposed to any expansion of Indian gaming and unwilling to reach a final agreement.
Indian leaders said profits from gaming have enabled hundreds of American Indians to move out of poverty and off welfare rolls. “Our (economic) fate was almost sealed until we discovered governmental gaming, which has allowed tribes to win back their economic independence,” McKay said.