Gov. Says Tribal Pacts Provide Better Oversight

Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Tuesday that agreements his administration had negotiated with some California tribes might allow the state to detect gambling improprieties such as those that occurred on the Chumash reservation in Santa Barbara County.

Appearing at a news conference to reiterate his opposition to Proposition 70, which would expand Indian gambling, Schwarzenegger said the compacts he negotiated provided the state "the right to open up those casino books and to … check if the [slot] machines pay out the right amount of money."

The governor said: "Our compacts are very well-thought-out. They are fair to the Indian gaming tribes, and they are fair for California."

Schwarzenegger's comments came after The Times reported that the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez was regulated by tribal members, some of whom had criminal histories and other background problems that would preclude them from working at Nevada casinos.

The chairman of the Chumash gaming commission has filed for bankruptcy four times in the last decade and is facing felony charges of spousal abuse and false imprisonment. The Times also disclosed a pattern of improprieties at the Chumash Casino, including fixed slot-machine games.

Three compacts negotiated in recent months by the Schwarzenegger administration include a clause that specifically authorizes state regulators to conduct background checks on tribal gaming commissioners and requires tribes to remove any who are deemed to be unacceptable.

"It's clear the governor wants to give us more authority, and he is working toward that direction in the new compacts," said Anna Carr, a spokeswoman for the California Gambling Control Commission.

However, revised deals that Schwarzenegger has struck with seven other tribes make no mention of the state's authority to remove gambling commissioners. Neither do compacts with more than 50 tribes that were signed by Gov. Gray Davis in 1999 and ratified by voters in 2000.

Proposition 70 would extend tribes' monopoly on Las Vegas-style gambling for 99 years and allow Indian casinos to offer unlimited slots, craps and other high-stake games. In exchange, tribes would pay the state 8.84% of casino profits.

Under Proposition 70, tribes would continue to have primary responsibility for policing their own casinos, which generated about $6 billion in revenue last year.

State regulators have a limited role in overseeing gambling on Indian reservations.

"Without a doubt in my mind, the state should have no role in deciding for a tribe who is or who is not suitable" to serve on tribal gaming commissions, said Deron Marquez, chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, one of the leading supporters of Proposition 70.

He criticized the new compacts negotiated by Schwarzenegger as intruding on the sovereign rights of tribal governments.

Schwarzenegger legal affairs secretary Peter Siggins said there was discussion in recent months of reworking existing provisions related to tribal gaming commissioners.

But he said that if the state had pushed, "tribes would have taken great umbrage."

"They view that as the state telling them how to govern their tribe," Siggins said.

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