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California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom met with the Tribal Council on February 4th to discuss a wide range of economic, legislative, and tribal sovereignty issues affecting not only Rincon, but gaming and non-gaming tribes throughout the state.

Joining the council were Interim Director of Tribal Administration Marian Jones, Attorney General Denise Turner Walsh, and Faith Price, Liaison to the Tribal Council.

Gavin Newsom was elected the state’s Lt. Governor in 2010, and took office in 2011. He also served as the Mayor of San Francisco for two terms beginning in 2003.

The Lt. Governor requested the meeting with the Tribal Council in his effort to become more educated and involved with the state’s tribal issues. This was Newsom’s first visit to the Pauma Valley area and the Rincon reservation.

“The council was pleased to have the opportunity to sit down with the Lt. Governor and discuss those issues that are very important to the future of Rincon on both the economic and sovereignty levels,” said Chairman Bo Mazzetti. “Though Rincon has built a strong presence in Sacramento over the past few years, we still need to maintain support of both the Governor’s Office and the legislature. The visit by Lt. Governor Newsom was very important as he was able to see the reservation and casino for himself. This will allow him to more clearly understand the economics and Indian sovereignty issues that both Rincon and other tribes must deal with on a continuing basis.”

Newsom’s first questions were in regard to the Harrah’s expansion, the financial stability of Indian gaming, the negative effects of the 2008/2009 recession, and the competition from other casinos in the area. Council member Steve Stallings responded to the Lt. Governor’s questions, providing detail on each question. Following Stallings’ explanations, a general discussion followed on each of the questions.

Also discussed were the financial position of the Travel Plaza and the success of 7-11 and the Shell gas station. Stallings explained that Subway was a leased business. All three enterprises, Stallings added, were very profitable in comparison to other operations in San Diego County.

Newsom was interested in the economic impact of Indian gaming in the area – the number of people employed, the benefits to the reservations, and the profit sharing of the casinos to the surrounding communities.

Steve Stallings responded to the questions regarding the economic impact not only to the surrounding areas, but also the services provided to the reservation such as the fire department and paying for the services of the county Sheriffs.

Bo Mazzetti addressed Rincon’s outreach to organizations throughout San Diego County over the past eight years amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Mazzetti also addressed the financial support gaming tribes provide to non-gaming tribes.

Newsom asked about “branding” of the Harrah’s casino, and how that had affected business at Harrah’s compared to the other casinos in Pauma Valley. Council member Laurie Gonzalez, who worked in management at Harrah’s for 10 years, explained how branding the casino had evolved over the past few years with an emphasis on Harrah’s Rincon as a complete resort rather than just a casino.

The Lt. Governor explained that his background is as a business owner both in the restaurant and wine businesses and as both a grower and seller of fine wines. He was very interested in the number of restaurants at the resort and what kinds of food they served. Council member Frank Mazzetti told the Lt. Governor that a few Rincon families had begun growing grapes for wine and that soil samples and the weather of the area showed potential for successful vineyards. This revelation excited Newsom, and discussion followed regarding what kind of grapes and wines would do best in this area.

Newsom expressed his interest in increasing job opportunities for the people of California through the growth of businesses, thus his interest in Indian casinos and the jobs they provide. The council members explained the number of employees at Harrah’s and in tribal government, as well as the general economic figures of other Indian casinos in the county.

From the Tribal Council’s perspective, the most important discussions centered on the primary issues Rincon now faces on the economic, water rights, Internet poker, taxation of tobacco products on reservations and sovereignty issues.

Chairman Mazzetti began the discussion by briefing Newsom on the specific issue of selling tobacco products on reservations and the state’s desire to keep the taxes on sales of tobacco products. The Lt. Governor was not aware of the legal issues and had a number of questions on this subject.

The details of pending legislation on Internet poker was discussed with both Mazzetti and Stallings responding to Newsom’s questions.

One of the more critical discussions centered around the San Luis Rey Indian Water Authority’s confrontation with the U.S. Department of Justice over the water rights of the five tribes of the SLRIWA. Following his explanation of the issues, Mazzetti told Newsom the SLRIWA needs the support of the two California senators, Feinstein and Boxer, and that to date, neither senator had shown any interest in supporting the SLRIWA’s legal position. Newsom commented that he knew both senators on a personal level. Chairman Mazzetti then told Newsom, “We need you to intervene to both senators on behalf of the SLRIWA. We need their support.

Can we count on you to speak to them for us?” Newsom responded that he would speak to them and seek their support. The final topic under discussion was the importance of the state dealing with sovereign tribes equally on a government-to-government basis. Newsom commented that he understood the importance of dealing with tribes on that basis, and that he believes in the sovereignty of Indian tribes.

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