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The power of tribal money

Post by David Seago on Aug. 30, 2008 at 5:44 am with No Comments »
August 30, 2008 5:44 am

Gov. Chris Gregoire has been on the defensive for months about the deal she cut with state Indian tribes that will allow them to expand their casino operations considerably.

Regardless of the merits of the deal itself, the governor has to play defense because the tribes have dumped a whole lot of money in her campaign chest.

I mention this because the Los Angeles Times has this story about California legislators dashing to protect tribal casinos from – gasp – competition from non-Indian bingo parlors.

The horror – bingo operators have come up a version of bingo that’s played on a device much like a slot machine, without actually being one.

The lovely irony of this is that the slots that tribes in both Washington and California operate are technically not slot machines, which are illegal in both states. The devices are legally considered lotteries because of the way the machines operate when the customer plays the machine.

Some difference. But the courts have thus decreed. Unlike Washington, the state of California gets a share of the tribal gambling take. Which is why California lawmakers don’t want bingo parlors cutting in on the action.

From the Times:

Few interest groups could pull off such a coup in the waning days of the legislative session, which ends at midnight Sunday. But the tribes are among the biggest political donors to state lawmakers.

And the tribes are business partners with the cash-starved state, which depends upon payments of more than $100 million a year from them to ease its budget problems. Some tribes have been threatening to withhold money if the state does nothing to restrict the bingo machines.

Officials of the small charities that depend on the machines say they are being put out of business by a political juggernaut.

“This is a ramrod job,” Doug Bergman, president of United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Sacramento, told lawmakers last week. “You know it and I know it.”

State Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown declared the machines illegal last year because they do not involve paper cards. In May his agents ordered charities to cease operating them in a dozen bingo halls, mostly in Northern California. A bingo machine manufacturer appealed and a federal court judgment is pending, but the court is not expected to address the issue of whether the machines violate tribal rights.

The tribes, meanwhile, are making their case in the Legislature.

Tribes “have the political power because they have the money,” said I. Nelson Rose, a Whittier Law School professor and gambling law expert.

Taking notice
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