A California band of Indians that runs a bustling casino won an important court ruling last week. If it holds up on appeal, California tribes could gain the power to expand their casinos without having to pay significant money into state coffers.
What seems like a sweet victory for tribes could be Pyrrhic.
California voters have approved ballot measures granting tribes monopoly rights to operate Nevada-style gambling halls on their land, transforming some of them into wealthy and sophisticated political players.
But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling favoring the Rincon Band of Luiseño Mission Indians could have the unintended effect of undermining support for tribes' monopoly, and opening the way for commercial gambling interests to expand their role.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has promoted expansion so long as tribes pay into state coffers. This year, tribes will pay the state about $350 million, far short of the billions the governor touted, but more than nothing.
Sacramento attorney Howard Dickstein, who represents several tribes and negotiated many of those deals, said that even with the payments, tribes profited. He fears the decision that the governor overreached could mean that Indians may "win the battle and lose the war."
"The decision undermines the entire basis for exclusivity in the compacts," Dickstein said. "Without a revenue share, the state has no financial incentive to limit gaming to tribes."
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