Big money gambling emporium gets Brown break

Viejas casino, a major political donor, hit by gambling slowdown, governor says.

The traditionally free-spending Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians has received a financial break from Jerry Brown, to whose political friends and causes the Alpine casino and hotel owner has long contributed.

In an August 13 news release, California's Democratic governor announced that he personally negotiated a deal to cut the state's take of the tribe's gambling revenue.

"The compact converts the Tribe’s fixed revenue share payment to the state into a percentage-based payment in order to account for the impact on revenue caused by changing economic conditions and to enhance the economic development, long-term stability and self-sufficiency of the Tribe," says the announcement.

According to the Sacramento Bee, the previous deal, cut in 2004 by GOP then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, required Viejas to pay a flat annual fee of $17.4 million to the state's general fund.

Just how much extra cash the tribe will get to keep under the new arrangement isn't immediately clear based on the newly released percentage agreement, which spells out a sliding scale of the state's quarterly take, to range between 8 to 18 percent based on the number of "gaming devices" operated by the casino, the maximum allowed being 4500.

The Brown agreement justifies the revenue reduction by bemoaning the declining financial state of gambling.

"Circumstances in the overall economy and the casino gaming market have changed, which have caused and will continue to cause a substantial reduction in revenues generated by the Gaming Operation in comparison to those that were expected when the parties entered into the 2004 [Agreement]," says the contract.

"The Tribe and the State agree that if the Tribe continues to make revenue sharing payments to the State at the fixed level required by the 2004 [Agreement], the Tribe would not be able to adequately fund its Tribal government, to the detriment of the Tribe’s ability to provide for the governance, environment, education, health, safety, and general welfare of the Tribe's citizens."

Viejas Casino

5005 Willows Road, Alpine

The falling financial fortune of the Viejas casino would appear to mark an abrupt turn of events for the tribe, which has generously bankrolled campaign contributions, as well as free meals, drinks, and golf for a host of politicians and office holders, both Republicans and Democrats.

In Brown's case, that included $25,000 Viejas came up with in February 2012 for the governor's successful tax-raising Proposition 30 campaign.

The tribe has also been a regular and heavy giver to the state Democratic Party, most recently contributing $60,000 on May 8, according to state data. On March 26 it kicked in $50,000.

Viejas-backed legislators have included Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, with $4100 this April 30 and Democratic Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, the same amount on May 16.

On March 25, Viejas gave the California Tribal Business Alliance PAC $40,000 and on June 6 came up with $4000 for Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom's re-election bid. The year before the tribe had given his campaign $10,000.

Viejas also provides gratuities to legislators. As reported here in May 2008, "On February 20, Assemblyman Tony Mendoza chowed down at Sacramento’s Chops steakhouse to the tune of $62.94.

“On March 10, Democratic state senator Ron Calderon and staffer Rocky Rushing each netted an $87.67 dinner at Sacramento’s posh Spataro Ristorante. On March 6, assembly speaker-elect Karen Bass partook of a $56.47 dinner at the tribe’s Grove Steakhouse, as did her staffer, Marcus McKinney.

“On March 26, six staffers to Democratic assemblywoman Lori Saldaña lunched together at the Grove for $35.59 each."

The casino operator is also friendly with local politicos, furnishing campaign money as well as so-called behested payments for causes favored by members of the county board of supervisors.

Most recently the tribe came up with $10,000 this spring for the grand opening of the new county water park downtown at the behest of Republican supervisor Dianne Jacob.

The pool at Viejas Casino & Resort

The pool at Viejas Casino & Resort

The March 2013 grand opening party for the tribe's resort hotel was attended by then-San Diego mayor Bob Filner and other politicos, who heard Viejas chairman Anthony Pico say that gambling "brought his people from a 'downward spiral of abject poverty … a dark place where all you could do was hope and pray for generations not yet born' into a new era of economic self-reliance and self-governance," according to a U-T San Diego report.

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Gee what a surprise! Who knew? Or rather its who you know not what you know that counts. Did we have a drop off of stupid people or are the stupid people now broke.

What happens when things get better? Will they keep on paying a percentage of revenue... or will they be put back on the fixed fee?

We should end the specially-protected monopoly status of gaming tribes. Let anyone open a casino wherever they can get local zoning boards to allow it. Tax everyone the same way.

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