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Hearing to Air Complaints on Misuse of Tribes' Bingo Revenue

May 24, 1985|LENORE LOOK | Times Staff Writer

Representatives of the U.S. Department of the Interior will hear testimony on problems caused by Indian-sponsored bingo games in California at a hearing Sept. 13 in San Diego, it was announced Thursday.

The hearing was requested by U.S. Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego). High-stakes bingo, which has attracted scores of local players to reservation grounds daily in San Diego County during the last two years, has also attracted a variety of problems, Bates said.

The September hearing, to be chaired by U.S. Rep. Richard Lehman (D-Fresno), will address allegations, mostly from tribal members, that revenue from the unregulated games has been misused, according to Jennifer Goodman, an assistant to Bates.

"We have received many written complaints about bingo problems for more than a year," Bates said in a telephone interview from Washington. "There have been enough questions raised and enough problems evident that we hope the hearing will help determine the facts and find out the deficiencies."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 25, 1985 San Diego County Edition Metro Part 2 Page 9 Column 1 Metro Desk 3 inches; 74 words Type of Material: Correction
Representatives of the U.S. House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs will hear testimony on problems with Indian bingo games in California on Sept. 13 in San Diego. The Times reported incorrectly Friday that the hearing was to be held by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The September hearing, requested by Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego), will be chaired by Rep. Richard H. Lehman (D-Fresno). Members of the panel include U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Pleasant Hills) and Ron deLugo, U.S. delegate from the Virgin Islands.

The first high-stakes bingo games in California began two years ago as a money-making venture on the Barona Indian Reservation near Lakeside. When those games began, there was hope among many reservation residents that bingo revenue would raise their standard of living. Others said that it would make them less dependent on federal funds.

The money for improvements has not surfaced, according to some at Barona. Roads remain unpaved, unemployment has not decreased significantly and promised programs have not been started, they say.

"We don't know where the money has gone," said Ernest Magginni, a member of the Barona tribe. "Since the bingo opened, we have only been able to force $3,000 out of the tribal council to distribute to each of the 153 (voting) members."

California Deputy Atty. Gen. Rudolf Corona, who has been directing investigations of Indian bingo for three years, said the Barona operation, which bills itself as California's richest bingo game, has been a multimillion-dollar business. According to the 25-year contract between the tribe and American Amusement Management Inc., a Los Angeles-based firm, 55% of the net proceeds go to the tribe and 45% to American Amusement.

Corona would not identify any specific problems uncovered at the Barona reservation, the Sycuan reservation east of El Cajon or the Rincon reservation in North County. But he said that problems have surfaced at games of several of the 11 tribes throughout the state that have set up high-stakes bingo. He said seven more reservations, all of them in Northern California, will offer the games by the end of the year.

"It is a rare instance where tribes are receiving some money," Corona said. "And where they have seen money it has gone for personal profit and not used to advance the tribe. . . . Our goal is to stop unregulated Indian gambling."

Bingo for charitable purposes was legalized by California voters in 1976. A U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in December, 1979, ruled that the Indians' desire to use bingo income to improve conditions on the reservation are as worthy as the intent of charitable organizations permitted to play bingo. But because the Indian games are under federal jurisdiction, they are not subject to the same auditing and jackpot limit requirements of games held by charities.

Independent auditing of the games by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and various other federal regulators is being sought by Bates and other sponsors of the Indian Gaming Control bill, now before the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs.

Barona tribal attorney Art Bunce of Escondido said, "There has been a lot of allegations of financial wrongdoing. We hope that the hearing will clear the air."

Auditing is done by accountants hired by the management companies, Bunce said.

Speaking for the Barona tribal council, Bunce contended that the games have been free of vice. "The tribe has received 55% of the net profit since the opening day," he said. He declined to disclose the amount involved.

"Bingo has provided a replacement fund for funds drying up from the government," Bunce said. "Each member of the tribe has received $3,000. The tribe has also spent other money, and some of the money is in a tribal bank account."

Bunce said that money has gone into establishing five college scholarships, a senior citizens food program and donations to the reservation's Catholic church.

Bunce also said the gambling operation has reduced Barona unemployment from 70% to 10%.

Bunce disputed statistics issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in January showing that 59% of the 304 Barona Indians were unemployed.

Magginni, 54, leads a group opposing bingo and says he represents half of the tribe, though none of the opposition is on the elected tribal council. He said that the bingo has only disrupted their lives and furthered the decay of the tribe.

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