Proponents Drop California Slots Initiative

With a month left before the Nov. 2 election, proponents of a California initiative that could have authorized slot machines for racetracks and card parlors are folding their hand.

With Proposition 68 hovering around the 30% approval level, Hollywood Park president Rick Baedeker, chairman of the Fair Share for California, said proponents unanimously agreed to pull out. He made the announcement at a press conference in Sacramento on Oct. 6.

"There's a great deal of confusion about Proposition 68," he said.

The initiative would have required tribes to pay 25% of their net revenues to support local public safety and social services and comply with several state laws. But if any of the 55 gaming tribes refused to accept the new conditions, all of the tribes would lose their gaming monopoly. Up to 30,000 slot machines would be allocated to 11 card clubs and five racetracks, with about one-third of the profits going to local services.

"Today's research and findings elsewhere tell us our position still resonates with voters," Baedeker said. "A full 70 percent of Californians believe the Indian casinos should be paying their fair share in exchange for the monopoly they have been given. Sixty percent feel Indian gaming is out of control."

But he said, "The voter doesn't understand what Proposition 68 is. The voter is confused."

Consultant Greg Larsen said a $12 million television ad campaign would be suspended on Oct. 8 and other efforts on behalf of Prop. 68 would not continue. In all, the campaign has spent about $27 million.

Baedeker said it was clear to the backers of the measure that there wasn't enough time to educate 30 million voters amid a flurry of television ads for 16 statewide propositions. He contended that a misleading description of the measure approved by the state attorney general for the voters' pamphlet was an "obstacle we can't get past."

He noted that a massive tribal spending campaign against it, which he estimated would have reached $70 million, was a problem.

And, he said, the opposition from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had privately negotiated agreements with nine tribes that would have been nullified by passage of Prop. 68, was another barrier.

"The governor's opposition was surprising to us," he said. "We really thought the governor would stay neutral. I think it was a huge factor, no question."

Baedeker said some members of the coalition would concentrate on defeating Prop. 70, a tribe-sponsored measure that would take all caps off current Indian gaming compacts and guarantee exclusive rights for 99 years in exchange for paying the state 8.8% of their net revenues.

He also pointed out that the tracks are challenging four recently approved compacts in court.

"I want to make this clear," Baedeker said. "We are not going away."

He said a new initiative campaign could come in 2006.