Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

California Poised to Give Big Boost to Gambling ; State Voters Are Expected to Pass a Measure March 7 Expanding Tribal Casinos

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

California Poised to Give Big Boost to Gambling ; State Voters Are Expected to Pass a Measure March 7 Expanding Tribal Casinos

Article excerpt

Sequestered by rocky hills from the sprawl of San Diego, this orchard-quilted expanse of glades and gorges could double for the Valley of the Jolly Green Giant.

From a dusty backyard, where children play beneath line-drying clothes, Carla Nejo can just see the riverside park where a gambling casino is due to rise beneath oaks, sycamores, and pines.

"Gaming will help create jobs, health facilities, better education, libraries, water and fire facilities - everything," says Carla, a teenage Pala Indian who grew up on this 12,000-acre reservation.

One mile up the road, 50-year resident Kay Lyall has a different view. "We don't think casinos will add anything to this community," she says, gardening in front of her ranch-style house. "A casino only brings the wrong kind of people in here for the wrong reasons."

Their views represent two sides of a political fight focusing on a March 7 vote that many say will change the face of California and give momentum to the expansion of gambling in dozens of states. If voters approve Proposition 1A - a constitutional amendment to allow tribes exclusive rights to operate Nevada-style slot machines and card games - dozens of casinos are expected to sprout in rural areas from Oregon to Mexico.

Approval of the measure will also ease the way for tribes across the United States to create compacts with their states to allow some forms of gambling as a means of self-reliance.

"Because the state is so big and holds so many tribes [112], once California has resolved this issue, the hurdles for tribes in other states will be resolved as well," says John Dossett of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in Washington.

The California measure is intended to clear up legal questions that led to a state Supreme Court rejection of Proposition 5, a 1998 initiative to legalize and expand tribes' existing casinos here. The measure passed by an overwhelming 2-to-1 margin before being declared unconstitutional.

Because of overwhelming public support, Indian tribes here negotiated and signed new compacts with the state last summer. The current proposition has the support of Gov. Gray Davis and two- thirds of both houses of the state legislature.

"The state leadership of both parties now concur about what forms of tribal gaming make sense for California," says Waltona Manyon, spokeswoman for Proposition 1A.

Passage would allow tribes the right to offer Nevada-style slot machines (allowing coins and jackpots instead of redeemable receipts), video poker, blackjack, poker, and other card games at no more than two casinos per reservation. Roulette and craps would remain illegal.

California would become the third-largest gambling state - behind Nevada and New Jersey - tripling from $1.5 billion annually to about $4. …

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