So Team Arnold seems to be getting a better deal than previous governors, but from the same group that has worked harmoniously with Kolkey in the past. One backer of the racetracks/card-rooms plans dismissed Schwarzenegger’s pending agreement as “a model compact. They still have only four or five tribes.” Another source, a Republican with ties to Schwarzenegger, puts it this way: “We don’t need the one-time revenue as much this year as we did in January [with the tax windfall that eased the need for bloodying programs or temporary tax increases]. So if it’s a billion now and only $130 to $250 million a year ongoing, is it the best deal?”
But a key Schwarzenegger backer insists that the governor will succeed in getting more tribes to participate.
During the campaign, Schwarzenegger seemed to favor expansion of Indian casinos, but on existing reservation sites in more rural areas rather than into urban areas. “They can expand gaming activity, but we don’t want it all over the place,” he said then. Now the word is that he favors some expansion into urban areas in exchange for revenues for the state.
Although Schwarzenegger hasn’t commented, this is said to include the pending casino in San Pablo, situated in the Bay Area within 15 miles of San Francisco and Oakland. Last week the San Pablo deal was reported to be imminent, but then a tribal spokesman denied it.
If Schwarzenegger cuts a deal with the tribes, it will be difficult for Republican legislators to oppose it. Where are the Democrats? The Democrats are usually with the casino tribes. Indeed, no gubernatorial compact with the casino tribes has failed. This fact parallels the rise of the tribes as a megapower in California’s money politics, spending upward of $120 million since the late 1990s. The racetracks and card rooms have not been in that spending class. However, some things are different now. The tribes’ losing big-money struggle with Schwarzenegger during the recall campaign dented their gauzy Dances With Wolves image, though most California voters continue to support tribal casino gambling. And the “fair share” notion advanced by Schwarzenegger in the recall campaign has taken hold. If the fair-share deal isn’t very big, it could be in trouble.
Powerful Southern California casino tribes, such as the Barona, Morongo and San Manuel, are reportedly up in the air. If the big Southern California tribes aside from the Viejas were to oppose the Schwarzenegger compact, then he could have trouble in the Legislature with Southern California Republicans.
Amusingly, Schwarzenegger himself was one of a million California voters to receive a letter sent out on official-looking stationery by state Senator Jim Battin, the Palm Springs–area Republican who moonlights as a public-relations consultant for Indian casinos. The letter solicited support for the Agua Caliente initiative. Schwarzenegger, brandishing the letter, told Battin to drop the initiative because “We can get more.”
We’ll see soon enough if that’s right, if the guv’s hot winning streak continues, or if he sees fit to adopt elements of the emerging alternative proposal and win that way. SchwarzWorld is never a dull place.