On June 7th, 2009, a pair of Indian tribes in San Diego County are hoping to use a recent court decision in efforts to expand their casino facilities without having to strike new agreement with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Rincon tribe and the San Pasqual tribe, both near Valley Center, stated that they should be permitted to add hundreds of slot machines to their casino facilities by virtue of agreements they struck with the state in 1999. Both tribes have pending lawsuits in San Diego federal court.
A win for both tribes would not only mean opportunity to offer more slot machines but would hurt Governor Schwarzenegger’s effort to acquire more money for California’s general fund from casino earnings. The Governor has stated he will make agreements for more slot machines only if the general fund receives a portion of the gaming profits.
The tribes stated that they should not have to negotiate for something they have a right to possess. The San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians filed a $566 million claim against California, the initial step toward a new breach-of-contract case. The tribe says that’s how much it will lose over the next decade if it does not get the slot machines it believes it is entitled to offer.
Gaming compacts between about sixty tribes and then Governor Gray Davis in 1999 limited each Indian tribe to no more than two thousand Class III slot machines. The Harrah’s Rincon Casino and Resort offers 1,600 slot machines. San Pasqual tribe’s casino offers 1,572 slot machines. Both tribes want more slot machines. The 1999 gaming compact also set a cap for slot machines, but the Indian tribes and the state do not agree what that cap is.
State officials state that they do not have any more gaming licenses to give Rincon and San Pasqual because the gaming compacts limit the statewide machine number 33,151 and all those licenses have been awarded. Tribes say that the cap should be much bigger. At different times, they have argued that the cap should be set as high as 113,000.
The actual number of slot machines in California Indian tribe casinos is about 60,000, because some machines in place back in 1999 are not counted and new agreements with some tribe allow more machines not under the statewide cap. Rincon and San Pasqual tribes are not the only ones who have filed a case to get the statewide cap increased. Two tribes in Northern California have filed a case in Sacramento federal court.
In April, a federal judge dismissed the slot machine cap proposed by the state and the Picayune and Colusa tribes. Judge Frank Darnell said that rules for changing the statewide slot machine cap is
subjected to different interpretations. He added that the correct number of machines should be 42,700, suggested as a fallback position by the Picayune and Colusa tribe.
Governor Schwarzenegger said that he will appeal the decision. Lawyers for the Rincon tribe and the San Pasqual tribe stated that will soon ask judges in San Diego to examine the Sacramento judge’s decision.
A year ago, a federal judge in Sacramento found that Gov. Schwarzenegger negotiated with the Rincon Band of Mission Indians in bad faith by demanding payment to the state’s general fund, which the judge classified as an illegal tax. That decision is now under appeal before the 9th Circuit.