With Gov. Pete Wilson's signature, California has established a structure of casino-style Indian gambling. Now it must take care that this first formal approval for tribal casinos is not the beginning of a slippery slope leading to wide-open gambling a la Las Vegas.
The Assembly on Thursday approved legislation that ratifies a compact negotiated by Wilson and the Pala band of Indians from San Diego County. The Senate promptly concurred and sent the measure to the governor.
The Pala pact becomes a model; already 10 other tribes have agreed to similar terms. The law allows tribes to operate video slot machines that work like a high-speed lottery game. The major distinction between California gambling and Nevada's is that, essentially, players in California bet against each other, not against the casino owners, and this is seen as an advantage for the players.
The bill was bitterly opposed by 40 other tribes that now operate casinos with 13,000 Nevada-type video slot machines. The federal government has vowed to close these casinos, which now violate state law. Their owners are seeking to legalize their machines by sponsoring Proposition 5 on the November election ballot. It will be a costly, hard-fought campaign.