Ad Watch: No on 48 ad misleads on California tribal gambling history

An image from a no-on-Proposition 48 TV ad
An image from a no-on-Proposition 48 TV ad

Opponents of Proposition 48, a referendum on a state-tribal compact that would allow a Madera tribal casino, have taken to the airwaves with TV ads contending that the measure would set a precedent for off-reservation gambling. A yes vote on the measure upholds the compact; a no vote rejects it.

One of the ads features Mark Macarro, the chairman of the Temecula-area Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, one of California’s most politically influential tribes. The tribe has contributed more than $1 million to the No on 48 effort, which has raised $15.3 million this year compared to the $470,000 collected by the measure’s supporters. Table Mountain Rancheria in Friant, which operates a casino about 26 miles from the proposed casino site, has put up more than $10 million to defeat the referendum.

Following is a text of the ad and an analysis by Jim Miller of The Bee Capitol Bureau:

Mark Macarro: “More than a decade ago, we promised to limit casinos to existing tribal land. And you voted overwhelmingly to approve tribal gaming based on that promise.

“Now, Proposition 48 would allow a Nevada gambling company to use a rural tribe to build a casino on off-reservation land. Forty-eight would set a bad precedent, allowing off-reservation casinos. You trusted us to keep our word, and we honor that trust. That’s why tribes throughout California ask you to vote no on 48. Thank you.”

Analysis: The ad begins with footage from a 1998 TV ad featuring Macarro advocating for then-Proposition 5, a ballot measure to legalize gambling on tribal lands. Voters passed it and also approved another tribal-gambling measure, Proposition 1A, in 2000.

Supporters argued at the time that the initiatives would “strictly limit Indian casinos to tribal lands.” It’s a stretch to say voters “overwhelmingly” approved Propositions 5 and 1A based on that promise. Proponents also made a strong case during the campaigns that the measures would help lift tribal members out of poverty and develop economically.

In any event, nothing in the previous propositions restricted the behavior of the federal government, which has since designated the land in question as tribal. The U.S. Department of the Interior placed in trust 305 acres off Highway 99 in Madera for the purposes of allowing the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians to build a casino there. The decision effectively added the land to the tribe’s existing reservation near Yosemite.

Since voters approved Indian gambling, other tribes have used the federal process to gain recognition of new land. The difference here is that the North Fork land is separated by 40 miles from the original reservation.

Macarro argues in the ad that tribes promised in 1998 to limit casinos to “existing” tribal lands, but nothing in the language of Propositions 5 or 1A did so. In this instance, some opponents clearly have their own interests in mind. A new casino would compete for customers with Table Mountain Rancheria, the largest donor to the No on 48 campaign.

The North Fork tribe has contracted with Las Vegas-based gambling company Station Casinos Inc. to run the planned Madera casino. Station has contributed $370,000 to the Yes on 48 campaign. It is not accurate to say Station is “using” the North Fork tribe, which has a tribal government that made the decision to partner with the company.

Most California tribes manage their own casinos. Yet it’s not uncommon for California tribes to get outside help when their casinos are just starting up. United Auburn, which contributed to the No on 48 campaign, once contracted with Station Casinos to run its Thunder Valley Casino Resort.