Indian casino trick hits the right slot

WHEN IS a slot machine not a slot machine? It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke but for California's Indian tribes trying to make a living from casinos, it is a serious question.

In theory, a box with flashing lights and spinning wheels that the punter feeds with money in the hope of extracting a profit - what any unsuspecting person would recognise as a slot machine - is illegal in California. Or it has been up to now.

For it would seem the box with flashing lights and spinning wheels developed by the Pala tribe of north San Diego county is not a slot machine: its official name is an Indian Video Lottery Match Game and, although it looks like a slot machine, operates like one and sounds one, it succeeds, for official definitions, in being something different. Something entirely legal.

The loophole lies in a trick made possible by computers. The principle of a slot machine is that each customer tries his luck individually. But the Video Lottery Match Game gives each customer a number and picks a winner. The punter does not notice the difference, because the result is signalled by three cherries or strawberries appearing in sequence. But the difference, legally, is that customers are competing against each other rather than the house. If the machinery sounds complicated, it pales next to the complexities of the politics behind the wheeze.

Until recently, gambling was considered the domain of Nevada, to the east. Californian Indians have been allowed to run casinos on their reservations since 1988 but were restricted in what they could offer. What prompted the Pala to develop their machine was negotiations with California's Governor, Pete Wilson, to secure as much leeway as possible with a state leader nominally opposed to the spread of casinos. The Pala signed a compact in September, and 10 other Californian tribes followed suit.

But a different group of tribes lobbied to put a proposition legalising all forms of reservation gambling on to next month's electoral ballot. Supporters of Proposition 5 say Indians have the right to economic self- reliance and casinos are as good a way of achieving that as any.

However, there is one set of arguments on the surface and another underneath. Proposition 5 is not about the best interests of the Indians or the state but about different means of generating revenue and buying political influence. The Pala and others in the No camp are betting on the Video Lottery Match Game.

The Yes camp, meanwhile, wants to compete with Nevada head-on, betting that the financial muscle its gambling facilities will acquire will enable them to keep the politicians sweet and preserve their current tax advantages.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss