7 questions, only 1 potentially fatal
Proponents of Proposition 70, the Indian-sponsored initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot which would allow unlimited slot machines at casinos on reservations in exchange for tribes paying the equivalent of the state corporate income tax on their profits, held a news conference this morning to unveil what they called "the 7 deadly questions" to ask Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger regarding what they called "the cash register chaos" of the new deals he's been negotiating with selected Indian tribes.
In fact, six of the questions were somewhat arcane, legalistic or just plain confusing to anyone except the most passionate followers of the complicated gaming issue.
But there is one element of the issue that nearly everyone understands: Will tribal gaming eventually lead to the development of casinos in the state's major urban areas? A clear majority of Californians wants the answer to that question to be "No!"
Given the governor's popularity and opinion polls that show the two gaming initiatives on the November ballot losing badly, what Prop. 70 advocates need is one truly deadly question that will raise doubts about Schwarzenegger's credibility on the issue.
This could be it: "Why do you continue to say that you oppose urban casinos and then do everything you can to make San Pablo the biggest casino in the Western United States?"
San Pablo is an existing card club just east of San Francisco, a stone's throw from the Bay and just minutes away from downtown Oakland and the San Francisco Peninsula. In August, Schwarzenegger negotiated a deal that would have allowed 5,000 slot machines there more than any of the glitzy gambling halls on the Las Vegas Strip. In the face of fierce and instant opposition in the Bay area and from legislators, the Lytton tribe quickly agreed to cut that number in half, with the proviso that it could be renegotiated in a couple years.
Even at that, legislators refused to ratify the proposed deal, and Schwarzenegger had to withdraw the proposal in the closing days of the legislative session.
Proposition 70 would limit Indian gaming to existing reservations. "It's transparent. It's out there. There's no question about it," said Gene Raper, spokesman for the Prop. 70 campaign.
And what's Schwarzenegger's position on urban gaming? "The governor seems to be fickle on it," Raper said. "We're not."
Said Jesse Huff, the former state finance director who is a consultant to the campaign: "When the backroom deal came to light, the administration said it didn't want to do it but it was forced to do it. But when it came to light, everybody backed down. It was clear they were never forced."
Prop. 70 faces a very difficult battle, given the confusion over the competing ballot initiatives and the governor's opposition. But there is one deadly question that could resuscitate an initiative that now appears to be on life support.
Expect this question to be asked of voters in coming TV commercials:
"Do you favor large-scale urban casinos in California? Neither do we. Prop. 70 prohibits them. Gov. Schwarzenegger, in his zeal to generate revenues for the state budget, has already shown he's in favor of them if the price is right."