No on mega-casinos

California is in a fiscal mess, but anyone who tells you passage of Propositions 94-97 will even begin to solve it—and that includes Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger—is blowing smoke.

The bills will generate “billions of dollars” to meet the state’s needs, the governor intones in a television ad promoting the propositions. Of course, it’s not hard to understand why he’s pimping for bigger casinos. He’s failed to do what he promised he would do when he was first elected—that is, “cut up the credit cards” and balance the state budget. Instead he now faces a deficit—some $14 billion over the next 18 months—as great or greater than the one he promised to eliminate.

The measures would legitimate four compacts Schwarzenegger negotiated in 2006, each with a different—and already wealthy—Southern California Indian tribe. If passed, they will allow the tribes to add up to 17,000 Nevada-style slot machines to their existing casinos, making the gaming houses among the world’s largest.

Because the “billions of dollars” the governor mentions would be generated over the next 23 years, however, annual tax revenues from the additional machines would range from only one-tenth to one-half of 1 percent of the state’s budget. In addition, the tribes themselves would maintain authority to certify their slot-machine revenue.

In order to generate that revenue, gamblers will have to lose as much as $50 billion during that same time period. Some will be able to afford to lose; others—those with meager incomes or gambling addictions—will not.

The compacts also fail to require the tribes to allow workers to unionize and to mitigate the casinos’ impacts off the reservation.

Perhaps most important, the mega-casinos that will result if these compacts are approved—and others that assuredly will follow in their wake—are nothing like the small-scale, rural gaming enterprises envisioned when voters approved Proposition 1A in 2000. Now is the time for Californians to put the lid back on this Pandora’s box by rejecting Propositions 94-97.