Chumash Money


I generally vote "no" on 90% of California's ballot initiatives, but I almost always make an exception (until this year, anyway) of giving Indian tribes more and more gambling rights. The historically oppressed poor get rich, my commute to sin gets halved, and Kenny Rogers is forced to whore for grim gaming warehouses that spit out slips of paper instead of coins. Everybody wins!

Do they ever. This endless L.A. Times article (which is one in an "occasional series") does its level worst to find a dark lining in a silver cloud, but can't avoid some astonishing facts about the Chumash tribe in Santa Barbara County's lovely Santa Ynez Valley (recently portrayed in the schlup tragicomedy Sideways). Excerpt:

For much of the past two centuries, the Chumash of Santa Ynez lived in anonymity and abject poverty. As recently as the 1960s, reservation homes lacked running water, electricity and phone service. A decade ago, some Chumash still relied on welfare and donated clothing.

Then came the casino.

Since 2000, when California voters granted Native American tribes the exclusive right to offer Las Vegas-style gambling, each of the 153 members of the Santa Ynez band has received more than $1 million in casino income.

The torrent of money has caused a jarring transformation in the life of the Chumash. It has provided financial security and a bounty of material goods. It has enabled the Chumash to revive their language and instruct their children in the tribe's ancient traditions.

You really should hear the Kenny Rogers jingle, though. "Barona Valley ranch / it's a brand new deal!"

NEXT: What About Staying Up Late to Watch TV?

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  1. I think there’s a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode lurking here…

  2. It’s actually the second in a series. The first one had most of the negative stuff: games that were allegedly fixed, the tribal chairman telling a dealer to give the chairman’s son free chips during a game. Plus some (most?) of the members of the Chumash gambling board have criminal records that, as the LAT sez, “would prevent them from even working in a casino in Nevada or Atlantic City.”

    I guess a disgruntled employee or tribal member went to the Times with a deskful of incriminating documents. That story was the first time I’ve seen Indian gambling revenues publicly disclosed, along with individual earnings (It’s like $300,000 a year per tribal member, or something).

    It was a little odd to run an entire story of negative stuff and then another story a couple weeks later on how great gambling has been for the Chumash. But I guess there wouldn’t have been room in the first story for the balance. It was the usual 10,000,000-word LAT stuff.

  3. Thanks, Tony; fixed it. You been up there since the new one opened? Last time I dropped coin on the Chumash, like 1999 or something, it was in an extremely grim converted double-wide, where shriveled people in SUVs lost silently. The picture of the new place makes it look like a paradise by comparison.

  4. Government granted monopoly is right if it redresses past wrongs?

    Just think how eligible all those single, young Chumash are. I might have to look one up.

  5. This is horrible. Why is the state allowing the White Man to corrupt the innocent Native People’s traditional culture with money, the root of all evil??

  6. Government granted monopoly is a step up from government mandated prohibition.

  7. I haven’t gambled there (there’s no liquor allowed on the casino floor!), but I visited for a story I was writing. Haven’t been since they finished the hotel, though.

    Anyway, it’s gorgeous. And they get acts like Fleetwood Mac, Whoopi Goldberg, etc. Nothing that would get me up there yet, but it’s a cut above most Vegas shows.

    The interesting thing right now up there is that the tribe wants to work with Fess Parker and build some mansions and golf courses, maybe just for themselves, maybe not. Bo Derek and David Crosby and the rest of the Santa Ynez Valley celebrities are pissed off.

  8. ULSNG,

    Is that a variation of the “slippery slope” argument – exceptions to a prohibition lead inevitably to full legalization – or a “half a loaf” argument? Either way, I find it convincing enough.

  9. (continued)

    That guy who writes Elton John’s lyrics even took out a full-page ad in the News-Press, telling the tribe their ancestors would be unhappy. You know, because they lived at one with the land.

    It’s a war, with the cowboys (Fess Parker) and the Indians on one side and the rock stars on the other. Very entertaining stuff. If I didn’t have a bunch of work do to right now, I’d provide links (actually, I don’t think you can read the SB News-Press online unless you’re a subscriber).

  10. I can’t believe Fess Parker is still alive & still mucking it up in the endless Development Wars up there. Bernie Taupin, though, is incapable of surprising me anymore…. BTW, Tony, you should really get your hands on “California Editor” by Thomas Storke if you get the chance. Great SB history stuff & gruffm, old-timey newspaper beeswax.

  11. Now that they’re filthy rich, do they still use every part of the buffalo?

  12. Am I really the only one who finds it intensely disturbing that the government has given one ethnic group a monopoly on this sort of thing? I got nothing against gambling, and I got nothing against Indians, and I’m sure glad to see them out of poverty, but for reasons I’m too inarticulate to name this strikes me as a very bad idea , at least over the long run. Maybe give the Indians a monopoly for ten years, and then open it up to competition?

  13. Yeah, ac, it seems a little strange to me. I guess the rationale for the monopoly is not based on ethnicity, but rather on the idea that indian tribes are to some extent considered soverign nations? Quasi-states? Just guessing there.

    Now that they have lots of money, I imagine they’ll lobby furiously to keep anyone else out of the gambling business.

    I figure if pot is ever decriminalized, the first place you’ll be able to buy it will be on indian reservations.

  14. Yeah, there’s a pretty good reason, ac. Indian tribes are sovereign, at least in their relations with state governments. They’re still subservient to the federal government, when it comes down to it. But California can’t, and shouldn’t be able to, tell them they can’t gamble.

  15. Is it really that they’ve granted a monopoly to them? Or is it more that their ban on an activity just doesn’t apply. If other people want to start a casino, it’s not the indians that are stopping them (except by lobbying the government to keep the ban in place, a regulation activity that nearly everyone on this board would complain about), it’s the government. Personally, I like it when governments of any level are told to butt out.

  16. Bo Derek and David Crosby and the rest of the Santa Ynez Valley celebrities are pissed off.

    That’s good enough for me. Is there a petition I can sign or something? (though I can’t see myself writing a check to help the cause of folks already awash in more cash than I’ll ever see)

    Bring on the Neon, Hookers, and Lonesharks!

  17. The Ojibwa here in Michigan make a killing off the casinos. I’ve heard that every PERSON in the tribe receives $1,200 a week. I don’t know about the Chumash, but if the casino here were to go bankrupt (HIGHLY unlikely) and the people to stop getting their checks, almost all would be on welfare in a week. Most are drunks, druggies, gambling addicts or all of the above. It may sound like I’m racist, but I only speak the truth.

    So I guess my point is that the government gives the Indians sole casino rights because it allows them to not have to pay welfare to the large tribes with an unbelievable, seemingly never-ending cycle of poverty.

  18. While attending Cal Poly, I would run down to the Chumash to play some blackjack. Couldn’t hardly breathe, the tobacco smoke was thicker than a Tiajuana Turd. Hopefully they have improved the facilities. I found the Chumash to be pretty decent folk that started improving the economy of Lompoc, if a federal pen/military town’s economy could ever improve!

    I tend to not feel so bothered by native americans holding a monopoly on gambling. The voters of California, as the voters of Washington State, granted this through the ballot box. But of course, they did it for the children. We certainly don’t want to send the wrong message to the teen’s when there is a slot machine in “every corner store.” Oh no!

    Voters are so guillable….

  19. There should be a state constitutional amendment that immediately enacts into law what David Crosby and Bo Derek both oppose.

    – Josh

  20. Wild Pegasus,

    And (though I love many of their movies and Redford’s Sundance has done a lot for film) Robert Redford and Paul Newman.


    BTW, speaking of actors, anyone else see any interviews with Colin Farrel concerning Alexander? I always thought actors did “research” on the characters they play (especially the historical variety)?

  21. “Now that they’re filthy rich, do they still use every part of the buffalo?”

    I’m pretty sure the members of this CALIFORNIA tribe utilize the caracasses of buffalo exactly the same way their ancestors did.

  22. I agree with AC about the bizarre notion that Indian tribes should get casinos. I don’t see why I shouldn’t get a casino and why me and 150 of my closest friends shouldn’t be considered sovereign. Of course, I know why that’s the case. But there’s no particular reason to privilege the Indians.

    Interesting fact about Arizona: the anti-smoking fanatics are going to put a state-wide smoking ban on the ballot soon – after having successfully banned smoking in “public” places in Tempe. One of the big concerns among them, though, is that the ban will not affect reservations (which are all around Phoenix) and the casinos that are therein. If the Indians had any sense about them, they’d be pushing for the ban (bootleggers and baptist style) so they could open up clubs and bars etc. where people could be human.

    Shouldn’t oversell the all the money that flows into the Indians’ pockets though. My view is that you can give people $150k a year or whatever and certainly that person will not starve, but neither will that person necessarily be productive, happy, social etc.

  23. bc wrote:

    “If the Indians had any sense about them, they’d be pushing for the ban (bootleggers and baptist style) so they could open up clubs and bars etc. where people could be human.”

    What if they had, say, a sense of ethical responsibility? I’d praise them if they didn’t twist the government’s arm for whatever benifits them.

  24. “I’m pretty sure the members of this CALIFORNIA tribe utilize the caracasses of buffalo exactly the same way their ancestors did.”


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