California Slots Initiative Loses Ground in Poll

A California Field Poll finds that Proposition 68, an initiative that could bring slot machines to 16 racetracks and card rooms in the state, has lost significant ground since an initial polling in May.

The statewide survey of 534 California residents who say they are likely to vote in the Nov. 2 election found 48% in opposition to the initiative, 30% in favor. A significant 22% was undecided.

The findings differed substantially from a May sampling by the Field Poll that showed Proposition 68 favored by 57% of respondents.

Hollywood Park president Rick Baedeker, spokesman for the tracks, declined comment on the result. "We're still trying to decipher it. It is completely different from what our own research has found."

He said changes in the wording of the measure made by the state attorney general's office that emphasized gambling expansion in the initiative "was not helpful, but certainly nothing that would have caused a 30 to 40 percent switch" from the campaign's own survey.

Greg Larsen, a spokesman for the "Yes on Proposition 68" campaign, said he was "clearly disappointed by the numbers.

"But our research has shown and continues to show us that when it is explained that the tribes would pay 25 percent (of gaming revenues) as its fair share, the results are much more favorable."

A coalition of tribes began a statewide television ad campaign Aug. 13 aimed at convincing voters that the Proposition 68 will create Las Vegas-sized casinos in urban neighborhoods, endangering schools and contributing to crime increases.

Larsen said he isn't surprised."We expect that the Indian casinos, which have millions and millions of dollars in resources, will spend anything they have to in order to avoid paying their fair share. But this campaign really hasn't even started yet. This is the election season's slow period. It's not over by a longshot."

The "Yes" forces have slowed down in their fundraising in recent months. They have raised nearly $11 million, about $5 million of that coming from the racing interests – Los Alamitos, Magna Entertainment Corp. (Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields), Churchill Downs Inc. (Hollywood Park) and Bay Meadows. Those numbers have changed little since June 30.

The measure would require tribes to pay 25% of its gaming revenues to local governments for police and fire personnel and for improved children services. If any of the tribes refuse to agree to the new requirements, five racetracks and 11 card rooms would be able to spilt 30,000 slot machines, breaking the Indians' gaming monopoly. The tracks and card rooms would provide one-third of its new revenue to local government.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has actively opposed the measure, which would nullify recently re-negotiated compacts with five tribes. Interestingly, Friday's Field Poll found that 73% said they were unaffected by Schwarzenegger's stand on the issue.

Republicans opposed Proposition 68 by a 55-27 margin with 18% undecided. Democrats reacted negatively by a 42-34 split with 24% undecided.

A second gambling initiative in November, sponsored by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, was losing by a 40-33 margin with 27% undecided, according to Field. The measure, Proposition 70, would give tribes virtually unlimited gambling options for 99 years in exchange for giving up about 9% of their revenues to the state.