Support

Support strong for two gaming proposals

Two competing Indian gambling initiatives on the November ballot would each increase the number of slot machines in exchange for giving the state a share of casino profits.

And each would pass if the vote was today, according to a Field Poll released Wednesday.

So far, “California voters are ready to expand opportunities for the public to gamble so long as gaming operators provide additional revenues to state and local coffers,” reported pollsters Mark DiCamillo and Mervin Field.

One proposal would lift limits on the number of slot machines and other games. In return, tribes would pay the same state taxes as do corporations, 9 percent. That measure is backed by one of the most profitable tribes, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

“Once it’s explained to the people what is actually taking place, they usually agree that 8.84 percent is a fair share,” said Richard Milanovich, chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

The other ballot measure, backed by card rooms and racetracks, would tax tribes’ gambling revenues at 25 percent and require them to accept state laws and court jurisdiction. If any one of the 61 gambling tribes balked, the measure would let 16 racetracks and card rooms operate 30,000 slot machines, with a third of the proceeds going to state and local government programs.

The measures are supported by a majority of voters, according to the telephone poll of 388 registered voters between May 18-24.

The first measure was favored by 53 percent of voters and opposed by 30 percent. The second was favored by 57 percent and opposed by 26 percent. In each case, 17 percent were undecided.

Milanovich said voters would favor the Agua Caliente initiative over the racetrack initiative when it comes time to vote.

“By the time November rolls around, there will be a broad education-based campaign that will explain our initiative in ways that makes sense as well as shed light on the deceptive motives of the racetrack measure,” he said.

The pollsters speculated that the seeming public acceptance may stem from California’s long history with gambling, dating from Gold Rush days. Card rooms with limited gambling have remained legal ever since, while horse betting has been around for more than 70 years and the lottery since 1982.

California paled by comparison with neighboring Nevada until tribal gambling, however, which has since turned into an estimated $5 billion a year industry.

But arguments that tribes haven’t paid their “fair share” to the state have had considerable appeal. During last year’s recall election, Gov. Arnold Schwarz-enegger said he would negotiate for a larger portion of tribal profits. Schwarzenegger has yet to back either initiative, either of which would trump any agreement he reaches with the tribes this summer.

The Agua Caliente’s proposal was more popular in the tribe’s home region of Southern California, where 56 percent of voters surveyed were in favor, compared to 49 percent in Northern California. Support was equal among Democrats and Republicans.

By contrast, there was no regional split over the card rooms’ initiative, but it was favored by 68 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of Democrats.

Because of the small sample, the poll has an error margin of plus or minus 5.8 percentage points.