Calif. Slot Backers Submit Million Signatures

Backers of a California initiative that could bring slot machines to several racetracks and card clubs submitted more than a million signatures Friday to county election officials around the state to qualify the measure for voter consideration Nov. 2.

Proponents are calling the Gaming Revenue Act of 2004 the "Fair Share" initiative. It would require Indian tribes with gambling casinos to agree to pay 25% of their slot gaming revenue to local city and county governments to provide for law enforcement and firefighter personnel and contribute to programs for abused and neglected children.

Tribes do not pay taxes on gambling revenue, which has been estimated to be as much as $8 billion a year statewide.

Failure to renegotiate compacts by any of the 54 gaming tribes would free 11 card clubs and five racetracks to add a maximum of 30,000 slot machines. One-third of gaming revenues from those slots would go to city and county governments.

Racing officials have estimated that the additional revenue could double or triple current purse levels.

"We've submitted 1.1 million signatures of Californians who feel that Indian tribes should pay their fair share," said Greg Larsen, a spokesman for the initiative's campaign.

The Secretary of State's office will have until June 24 to validate that the necessary number of signatures – 598,105 – have been collected to certify the initiative for the ballot.

The Indian tribes have promised a major election fight to maintain their monopoly on slot machines in the state. They also are expected to mount a legal fight over the measure's constitutionality. One tribe, the Morongo Band, has pledged $50 million to defeat the proposal.

A coalition of Indian gaming tribes has already started a mail attack, linking the initiative to controversial Hustler Magazine publisher Larry Flynt. The tribes call it the "Larry Flynt Gambling Proposition."

Flynt owns the Hustler Casino in Gardena, one of the card clubs that could get slot machines if the voters approve the initiative.

Larsen called it "character assassination" and said he isn't concerned.

"I think voters will see through that and see that it's just tactics," he said.

A second gaming initiative sponsored by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians also submitted signatures Friday for a ballot spot. It would require the tribes to share 9% of the net operating income with the state, while taking the 2,000-machine limit off the number of slots a casino could operate and allow other Las Vegas-style games such as craps and roulette. Current 20-year compacts would be extended to 99 years.