Slow down on gambling

Let’s face it: California has a gambling problem. Gaming in our state has grown too quickly, with too little accounting of the impacts. Yet, we’re ready to embark on what critics have dubbed “the biggest expansion of gaming in U.S. history.”

Since casino-style gaming on Indian reservations was legalized in 2000, California has become the nation’s biggest Indian-gaming state, with 58 casinos generating revenues of $7.6 billion last year—$1.6 billion more than Las Vegas. Applications are pending for 29 more casinos, including the Mechoopda property south of Chico. Another 67 tribes are seeking federal recognition that would make them eligible to apply.

Meanwhile, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is backing a plan to increase by 30 percent the number of slot machines permitted at Indian casinos, setting off a political battle that will likely break records for campaign spending.

The governor is touting his compact with major tribes as a way to close California’s budget deficit, though concessions to the tribes include a lower rate of taxation than in many other states. The Legislature approved the agreement, which isn’t too surprising—gaming tribes are high-rolling contributors to both parties.

Voters will weigh in next year; there are other important factors we should consider.

According to a recent report by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, gaming funds are poorly regulated, with many tribes offering only limited access to financial reports, and gaming profits have gone to only 9 percent of the state’s Indian population. Plus there are the larger social issues: Numerous studies have shown a link between increased gambling opportunities and increased prevalence of problem gambling, which in turn is linked to social problems including substance abuse and domestic violence.

These are issues that need to be addressed before we think about further expanding Indian gaming.