Around Town: With California propositions 26 and 27, look carefully at the backstory
Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer is famous for being destroyed by a combination of Native American tribes led by Lakota Sioux Chief Sitting Bull at the Little Big Horn River in Montana in the summer of 1876. Less reported were the many atrocities visited upon the Lakota and other tribes by Calvary troops who would sweep in and destroy entire villages, including women and children. It is little wonder that no quarter was given when Custer let his ego overcome good sense and split his command despite having evidence a massive group of Sioux were forming.
Why recite this lurid history? Because now that we are “woke” and recognize the mistakes of the past regarding native Americans, we need to examine the ways in which we are still trying to keep them out of our way so we can profit.
We all have roughly 45 days before your mail-in ballot should arrive. Besides the usual state and federal offices, we all get to play the “guess what this really means” game with seven ballot propositions. This is the story behind two of those propositions for your consideration.
According to Ballotpedia.com, which tracks such things, the groups trying to pass Propositions 26 and 27 on the November ballot have made these two measures the most expensive in the history of California elections. So far, groups supporting these initiatives have raised a total of $256.4 million to convince you and I which way to vote.
Both 26 and 27 are using California Native American tribes in their campaigns. The Proposition 27 folks have thrown in the homeless as an added hot-topic buzz phrase to get your sympathy and your vote. Just do not dig too deep into the groups and motivations behind these initiatives.
Proposition 26 would allow only for in-person wagering at tribal casino and horse tracks in California. Digital wagering, which has swept the country since the beginning of COVID lockdowns, is the enemy of all casinos. Allowing you to bet from home means you can lose your shirt without even putting one on.
Tribal casinos are the offshoot of negotiated agreements between tribes and the federal government, and to a lesser extent, state governments in which they operate. State and local governments hate that, because they cannot have total control. The state’s greed for taxes and union jobs goes unfulfilled if tribal casinos thrive and survive.
You may realize that tribal casinos are not always located in the heart of a metropolis, so in-person gaming is a must to put customers in the building to provide the jobs and services that spin off profits to support tribal schools, hospitals and housing.
According to Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming, which was formed by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the Rincon Band of Luisueño Indians, and Wilton Rancheria, “Tribal sovereignty and self-determination will be at risk if Proposition 27 passes.” There are two large groups of Indian tribes supporting Prop. 26, and opposing 27, including a reported 50 or so smaller tribes.
Both groups claim that allowing “out-of-state” operators to take gaming revenue away from California tribes will do irreparable harm to tribal independence and progress.
Proposition 27’s support system is dominated by California card rooms. These folks have hired quality political minds and created a Political Action Committee (PAC) called Taxpayers Against Special Interest Monopolies to raise money and lead the campaign to pass 27 and defeat 26.
Not satisfied with just a single-approach appeal to gamblers, another PAC came into being called Californians for Solutions to Homeless and Mental Health Support to push Prop. 27. This group is touting the fact that a portion of taxes on wagering that would be collected under Prop. 27 would be spent on the homeless and mental health, though few details are provided.
This PAC, backed by BETMGM LLC, FanDuel Sportsbook and DraftKings, raised over $100 million. One wonders why, if these gaming companies were so concerned about our homeless, they didn’t just give the $100 million to create some housing and care facilities for them.
It is about profit. California would get a cut from taxes on every bet and any winnings. California wins either way, so state officials are happy to sit and watch, although secretly pulling for 27, which will significantly bump gaming revenue and taxes. Online gaming and sports betting companies have proved to be a cash cow that allows them access to everybody, not just folks who can enter a casino and gamble in a controlled environment.
Both sides in the 26 and 27 battle are using people as advertising props to convince you their side deserves your vote. Prop. 27 found two small Northern California tribes to appear in TV ads to say they are being left behind by tribal gaming and Prop. 26 proponents talk about going backward to poor schools, reservations and unemployment when tribal gaming is damaged.
History tells us that when there are tribal interests opposing each other in a political fight over laws or initiatives, both sides are likely to lose. Sometimes it is easier for voters to just say no than to cut through all the half-truths offered up as reason for support or opposition.