Governor: Indian gaming accord close

With a new gambling agreement near completion, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Tuesday said he is ready to oppose a November ballot initiative for non-Indian casinos.

The governor said at a news conference that he’s close to a new model gambling agreement, known as a compact, with four tribes that his staff later said could produce $1 billion to help balance the state budget.

Schwarzenegger said that means he will oppose an initiative to allow slot machines at 16 racetracks and card clubs along with an initiative by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm Springs to expand Indian gambling.

The governor previously announced his opposition to the Agua Caliente initiative, which would allow tribes to operate unlimited slot machines in return for paying the equivalent of the state corporate income tax. Each tribe now is limited to 2,000 machines.

The governor has established “Schwarzenegger’s Committee for Fair Share Gaming Agreements,” a fund-raising committee to oppose the Agua Caliente initiative.

The governor’s staff said the effort could be expanded to also oppose the non-Indian gambling initiative.

“The Agua Caliente initiative or the card room initiative, both of these initiatives, I will not support,” the governor said. “As a matter of fact, I will work against it. I will campaign against that.”

Agua Caliente chairman Richard Milanovich didn’t return a call seeking reaction to the governor’s remarks. Schwarzenegger made his comments on the day of the constitutional deadline for the Legislature to pass a budget.

Lawmakers didn’t meet the deadline but the governor refused to criticize them, saying instead that they were working together on final action by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

Schwarzenegger’s staff said the governor’s comments and the developing compact indicate that the governor wants to address the off-reservation impact of casinos while limiting gambling in the state to Indian reservations as much as possible.

“I think the governor today has indicated that he would rather see Indian gaming be the method of gaming in California,” said a senior staff member who asked not to be identified. “He doesn’t want urban gaming.”

But the staff member acknowledged that federal law might force the governor to consider some urban Indian casinos.

The governor didn’t identify the four tribes that he’s close to reaching a deal with — perhaps by next week, one tribal attorney said — but he added that he expects that agreement to attract other tribes to sign up.

A staff member later said the governor’s negotiator is talking with another 10 to 12 tribes about a possible new compact, an unspecified mix of currently gambling and non-gambling tribes.

“As soon as we sign this deal, there will be other tribes that will be joining us, the big tribes, very important ones,” Schwarzenegger predicted.

The state’s 54 Indian casinos were targeted by Schwarzenegger in his 2003 campaign for governor, who called on them to pay their fair share of gambling revenue to the state.

During the campaign Schwarzenegger at times urged tribes to contribute 25 percent of their revenue, the total of which is estimated at upwards of $5 billion a year.