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Could’ve Played Cards Better

With pure leadership and charisma, reinforced by overwhelming popularity, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been dealt what seems like a golden hand by California’s Indian casinos.

Yes, at first glance, the governor’s cards appear tough to beat, though dealers — Indian gaming interests — could retain a crucial ace in the hole.

As proposed, tribes have agreed to share an estimated $250 million annually with the state, along with pouring an immediate $1 billion into our cash-strapped treasury.

In return, Indian casinos could install an unlimited amount of slot machines; up to 2,000 are allowed under current regulations.

Clearly, the governor got what looks like a critical windfall in terrible times. But did California gamblers — veteran plungers and blue-haired day trippers — get a fair deal?

For unlike in Nevada, New Jersey and a host of other gaming locales, betting at California’s Indian casinos is unregulated by officially sanctioned watchdogs. The state has no inspectors monitoring complex computerized slots or table games. Regrettably, the governor’s proposed compact leaves the subject of inspections woefully alone. Remember, Indian reservations are, for all intents and purposes, foreign countries. Tribes possess sovereign immunity, complete with their own police and judicial systems.

So at Indian casinos, machines pay, well, what owners want them to pay, as little as 75 per cent of cash deposited.. Their computer chips are adjusted to dispense jackpots according to private formulas. There are no surprise visits from thoroughly trained regulators. No one with a badge ever checks the dice.

Now, this is not to say the casinos run rigged games. It’s hard — maybe impossible — to stay in the gambling business without winners. Customers need hope. New gamblers need inspiration.

Moreover, corporate gambling requires confidence: widely publicized rules, laws, inspections and strict police background checks for employees. All these are absent from reservation wagering.

Take the case of slot machines. In Nevada, there is a state requirement that casino disclose how much gamblers can win — on average, approximately 95 cents out of each dollar bet. In New Jersey, returns can range from about 91 to 92 cents. Casinos in those states can pay more — and some do — but those are the minimums. (For Nevada, you can even go online for a list of gambling hall payouts.) So what about returns on our reservations? At the moment, without legal minimums or disclosure rules, they remain tribal mysteries.

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2004 Online Casino News Archive


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