Regulatory Updates

California Gaming Issues in the Year Ahead

Anthony Miranda
Anthony Miranda

by Anthony Miranda, Chairman
California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA)

The upcoming year is sure to provide tribal government gaming with new challenges and opportunities. Several major events from the past year have set the table for 2007 and the outcomes are far from certain. However, the one thing that is clear is that we at the California Nations Indian Gaming Association have our work cut out for us on a myriad of fronts.

Though our primary focus is California, we do weigh in on national issues that affect tribal government gaming. The Democratic takeover of congress in the 2006 midterm elections not only signals a big power shift for the nation as a whole, but it also has a fairly direct impact on one of our major issues: to prevent legislation that amends the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

In one of the last acts of the lame duck session in the waning days of Republican power, the House of Representatives decided against trying to push through a controversial bill by outgoing House Resource Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA) that sought to amend IGRA. The outcome of the election now casts serious doubts on whether the bill by Pombo, who lost his election and is thus leaving Congress, will be picked up by the incoming Congress. The same can be said of a senate bill authored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who lost the chairmanship of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Meanwhile, here in California, there are both good and troubling signs. On the positive side, beginning late last spring, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger belatedly began to show a willingness to work with tribes. The result of his outreach efforts was a half dozen new and amended gaming compacts.

A few of the new compacts were delivered to the California State Legislature for ratification only a few days before the end of session. During the short period of time before the end of the legislative session some labor unions, most notably Unite HERE, descended on the capitol for a full court press largely on majority Democratic lawmakers. The unions objected to labor language in the compacts that was ironically identical to labor language they had previously approved and is currently in the overwhelming majority of existing compacts. Though CNIGA does not take a specific position on these or any other compacts that our member tribes negotiate, we find the efforts of the unions to expand the labor language in the compacts troubling.

The dubious and divisive union efforts forced legislators to, unfairly, choose between labor and tribes. Furthermore, tribes made significant concessions to labor when sixty-one compacts were negotiated in 1999. These compacts give labor unions access to employees to organize workers. The agreement also allows employees to hold secret ballot elections to decide whether they want to join a union, as some tribal employees have already done. The unions, however, are seeking to insert language into the new compacts that would remove an employee’s right to vote and would prevent sovereign tribal governments from discussing labor practices with their employees.

Gov. Schwarzenegger's new willingness to work with tribes is definitely encouraging enough to give hope that he will continue to pursue new lines of communication with the tribes in the coming months. There is the possibility that several new or amended compacts could be in the offering. We hope that he will continue to show the same cooperation that was evident last summer.

Off-reservation gaming is also an issue sure to resurface in the coming months. Once again, CNIGA does not take a position on specific compacts and believes that there are people of good will on both sides of this issue. However, there is still a chasm between each respective side of this issue.

Proponents of off-reservation gaming see it as an opportunity to increase self-reliance for tribes who have a geographic disadvantage, such as being in an environmentally sensitive area and/or being in a remote, hard-to-reach location. Those who oppose off-reservation gaming maintain the importance of upholding the commitment tribes made to the voters of California in limiting gaming to historical tribal lands. They also worry that off-reservation gaming will lead to the erosion of tribal sovereignty and to the inevitable expansion of commercial gaming where tribes will not be able to compete due to their current locations. No matter one's position, this is an issue that will be debated both in California and Washington D.C. over the course of the next year.

These issues are a reflection and perhaps typical of any growing industry. Tribal government gaming now employs over 56,000 Californians, many of whom live in traditionally economically disadvantaged areas, and generates much needed revenue into the state's economy. We expect gaming to continue its healthy growth in the coming months and years. More importantly, tribal gaming has given many tribes the resources and means to be economically self-sufficient and has provided the means to inject new vigor into tribal cultures and traditions.

Anthony Miranda is Chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA). He can be reached by calling (916) 448-8706 or visit www.cniga.com