Official: California Tribes Will Fight Racetrack Gaming

California Indians will fight any effort to expand gaming at state racetracks, said the executive director of the association that oversees tribal casinos.

"The tribes have to protect what is rightfully theirs," said Jacob Coin, who directs the California Nations Indian Gaming Association. "We have to do what we have to do."

Coin made his remark in response to an announcement the week of July 28 from the Thoroughbred Owners of California that it would soon introduce legislation that would allow other forms of gambling at racetracks. Indian tribes collectively make up one the strongest lobbying groups in the state.

Coin said the legislation considered by the racing industry would violate a state constitutional amendment approved by the voters in March 2000 limiting new gaming to Indian lands.

"Gaming for Indians is a right that was granted to them by 65% of the voters and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court," Coin said. "It will take more than a legislative act to change that."

Indian gaming has become a huge business in California. The CNIGA reported casino revenue totaled nearly $3.6 billion in 2002 at 52 locations in the state. The tribes do not pay taxes on the gambling revenue they take in.

John Van de Kamp, president of the TOC, believes that with the state facing a budget shortfall of nearly $8 billion next year, the timing is right for it to consider a new source of tax revenue. With tracks in California ailing due to the workers' compensation crisis and other problems, he also believes developing new revenue streams is vital to keeping California's purse structure competitive with those states that have added slot machines.

Coin was unconvinced on both points. He said voters never intended for the tribes to be taxed on gaming revenue, and that the state's racing industry reported total handle of $4.1 billion in 2002.

"They used the same arguments in Arizona (for a racetrack gambling initiative last year), and they were soundly rejected by the voters," Coin said.