NATIONAL GAMBLING IMPACT STUDY COMMISSION
THE HONORABLE ANTHONY PICO
CHAIRPERSON JAMES: Chairman Pico.
CHAIRMAN PICO: Commissioner James and honorable members of the committee, I would thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to testify here this morning before the National Gambling Impact Study Commission.
And I am Anthony Pico. I am Chairman of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, which is located about 35 miles just due east of here.
The -- something happened here. The Viejas Band will never forget May 12th, 1998. That was the night we had to choose between the Wilson Compact, gaming compact, or forfeiture actions against our video games by the United States Attorney in the Southern District of California.
We made the decision to negotiate within the Wilson Pala Compact framework, the "so-called Option B", because we had a gun to our heads. The gun to our heads was a Department of Justice action against Tribes not willing to negotiate a Wilson-like compact with Governor Pete Wilson's office.
Loss of the video machines, which is 80 percent of our income, would devastate our major investments in building an economic base for our Tribal government. It would also mean letting go of at least 1,000 employees of the 1,800 people that we employ. The desire to protect the jobs of our employees and their families, both the Indian and non-Indians who depend on us for our decisions, weighed heavily on our May decision to negotiate.
After eight years of court battles, legislative fights, and divisive political rhetoric, the governor brought us a compact to sign, a compact that we were never a party to, a compact that extracted a very dear price: the price of our sovereignty.
We have $120 million in our gaming facilities, invested in our gaming facilities. Another $10 million in infrastructure improvements, from a water reclamation plant, to a fire station and emergency ambulance services. The Viejas Band invested quickly in diversifying, beginning with the ownership of a local community bank, and the recent opening of a $36 million, 37-store retail outlet center, dining and entertainment complex. We have more than 2,100 vendors, mostly family-owned businesses, dependent on our economic well being.
The people of Viejas took the option to negotiate a Wilson-like compact armed with a glimmer of hope that we could take leadership in amending the compact for one more flexible, accommodating individual Tribal circumstances. We have not succeeded in moving the Governor from his heavy-handed arbitrary approach to Tribal concerns and differing circumstances. This Governor is not negotiating. He's mandating. The state takes, and the Tribes give.
This is a familiar rhetoric -- excuse me. This is a familiar ring, and it's because it is a repeat of our past relations with the state of California. There was no good choice on May 12th for my people nor any of the Tribes in California.
Our decision was made even more painful by the fact that we knew that the Wilson Compact was designed to divide the Tribes between those who could comply and those who could and would resist. And as we see here today, that wedge politics continues when we see unionization, union people, good union people against Native Americans, and that is a sad, sad situation that this state is in today.
Those with the trust -- you know what, this thing is not working. Is that because it's not union operated here or what? I deserve to be heard and I deserve good equipment.
A VOICE: If you could step back up just a little bit from the microphone. It has a cut-off mechanism if you get a little too close.
CHAIRMAN PICO: All right. Too much on the Reservation. I guess I'm just used to yelling across the valley. Could I have another minute's grace, Madam Chairwoman?
CHAIRPERSON JAMES: Absolutely.
CHAIRMAN PICO: Thank you.
Those with the trust responsibilities to Tribes that have been practicing an old policy of looking the other way while treaties, agreements and laws supporting Tribal rights get trampled by the states. The federal agencies with the responsibility to bringing both parties to the table have been only interested in making the Tribes sign a compact regardless of its impact value or implications for Tribes.
The issue of gaming is more than betting, regulation and taxes. It is about finally allowing Native Americans a place of respect and equal opportunity in America's economic picture.
This Commission is only part of history. If America fails to live up to its promises of self government and economic independence for Indians when it comes to gaming, it will be remembered as continuing its policy of oppression and discrimination when the opportunity arose to change the pattern of sad and tragic relationships.
I do not wish to sound disrespectful here, but I'm just really getting a little bit tired of our rights -- people questioning our rights and our integrity, and I'm tired of fighting the politicians in Washington and California to get a compact. I'm tired of seeing my Tribe's resources, both personal and monetary, wasted on fighting phony and unfounded political scare tactics from the infiltration of organized crime to the myths that we do not pay taxes. I believe that the people of this country wanted to change the relationship between Indian and non-Indian. Americans want to make amends for the past. I know that people of this county, of this country, if not the politicians, are cheering for us. The public is appreciative of what we have accomplished through gaming.
Let me tell you about how people in San Diego feel. Voters support the Tribes keeping the games that we now have by 85 percent. Statewide the support is 68 percent. That's why we know that we have a chance for a fair compact when the voters of this state go to the ballot in November.
A recent survey completed in June of 1998, of San Diego voters revealed that 89 percent of the respondents believed that Tribes have proven to be good corporate citizens.
The same percentage, 89 percent said that they would support a local ballot measure opposing state mandates over Tribal affairs, including gaming. When the voters were asked who they trusted, the Tribes or the state, to address the issues that the state claims it must mandate in the Wilson Compact, 77 percent said they trusted the Tribes more than the state to negotiate fairly. Seventy-seven percent said that they trusted the Tribes to protect the health and safety of casino patrons. Seventy-two percent wanted to leave the number of the machines up to the Tribes. Sixty-six percent trusted the Tribes to enforce federal law on Indian land, and 72 percent trusted the Tribes to prevent underage gambling and other crimes.
San Diego citizens do not believe Tribal casinos will lead to crime, or need more regulation. Seventy-four percent said that they did not believe allowing Indians to have video machines will result in increased crime in California.
On the issues of regulation, only 15 percent of the voters questioned whether the Tribes were doing a good job managing our casinos, and only 15 percent were worried about problem gamblers or casinos increasing gambling addiction. And I want to point out the testimony probably came this morning, but I read in the newspaper where a lady will testify or has testified that we very much feel that we have a responsibility also, as gaming operators, for problem gamblers and people that are addicted to gambling. We recently donated several thousand dollars to that organization, and we will continue to do so, because I believe it is our responsibility. It's our responsibility if people come to our establishments and are addicted to gaming or gambling, and we have to clean up the industry. If those problems are there, it's our responsibility and not the government's responsibility.
The citizens of San Diego believe we provide an acceptable entertainment venue on our Reservations. San Diegans believe Tribal government gaming is a viable alternative to welfare on reservations. They believe that gaming is a good alternative to poverty and the future extinction and continued disintegration of Tribal communities.
The question that I have before you here this morning and in conclusion: When you hear all the facts what will you believe?
Thank you very much. I'll be open to any question that you might have. I see that my purpose here today and in the future regarding this Commission is to be your servant, and I will be here to help you if I can. If you need me to fly across the country to talk to others, or to talk to someone else within the Commission or any of you, or be any help that I can, I would be most happy to do so.
Also on a postscript, I think that the unions and the Tribes is an example of the wedge politics that is going on in this state. I deplore that. I think that it's just being played here in California is just -- I don't have any words for it, but it hurts me terribly to see these things happen.
Thank you very much.
CHAIRPERSON JAMES: Thank you.