No on 68, 2004

In 2004, Garry South was hired by a consortium of California Indian gaming tribes as co-strategist along with a prominent Republican consultant to lead the fight against Prop. 68. This measure was put on the ballot by card rooms and horse racing tracks in an attempt to gain full-fledged slot machines at their own facilities. Indian tribes had previously been granted the exclusive right to Class III (casino-style) slot machines by the voters of California in 1998 by overwhelming passage of Prop. 5.

Prop. 68 was essentially an effort to blackmail tribes into accepting onerous changes to the compacts they had negotiated in good faith with Gov. Gray Davis under the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, signed into law by Pres. Reagan. If they did not agree to these changes within 90 days, by default the card rooms and racetracks would be entitled to operate up to 30,000 slot machines. South and the rest of the campaign team he assembled employed a two-fold messaging strategy — invoking sympathy for Indian tribes, suggesting Prop. 68 was just another attempt to break a promise to Native Americans, and an aggressive effort based on pinpoint geography to alert citizens in urban areas of exactly how close to their homes, schools, churches and major freeways these new mega-casinos would be. (The overwhelming majority of Indian casinos are in rural or suburban areas. There are none in Los Angeles County, for example, the largest county in the state.)

In the end, the tribes put up almost $50 million to defeat the measure, and the devastatingly effective messaging strategy by South and the No on 68 team led to a 84-16 blowout — one of largest margins of defeat of any ballot measure in California history.

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