CALIFORNIA CASINO VOTE DRAWS BIG AD STAKES: 'ANTI' COALITION SEEN SPENDING UP TO $90 MIL

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The most expensive and bruising ad battle in the state of California this fall could be the contest over a casino-gambling referendum instead of the race for governor.

Pitted against Proposition 5, which would require the state's governor to sign a compact for a casino with any tribe requesting one within 30 days, is the Coalition Against Unregulated Gambling, a consortium including several California county sheriffs; a Baptist church; major Nevada unions; California horse racing tracks and card clubs; and Walt Disney Co.

On the other side is Californians for Indian Self-Reliance, composed of supporters of the 27 existing Native American casinos in California.

The latter group sponsored the initiative to overcome what it believes is the failure of state officials to fairly negotiate the gambling compacts required by federal courts for Native American gaming to continue.

$1.5 BIL BUSINESS

The stakes are high: Native American gaming in California is an estimated $1.5 billion business, and both sides predict their rivals will spend heavily on the campaign.

"It's a battle of Nevada greed vs. Indian needs," said Bob Deis, VP of Winner/Wagner & Mandebach, Santa Monica, Calif., agency for Californians for Indian Self-Reliance. "Las Vegas would like to shut down Indian gaming in California."

Mr. Deis cited published estimates that the coalition will spend $60 million to $90 million to fight the proposal.

But Ben Goddard, president of Goddard/Claussen, Malibu, Calif., agency for the coalition, said most of the media outlays so far have been by the Native American groups, which he estimates are spending at rates of $1 million to $1.5 million a week-more than double the $500,000 weekly outlay by the coalition.

Observers are betting spending on the issue could dwarf that of the gubernatorial race.

HEATED RHETORIC

But even if ad spending isn't escalating on the campaigns, the rhetoric is.

In a TV spot that broke July 24, the coalition features neon casino signs sprouting from the ground and space, the appearance of the subliminal Web site tag, www.bad4cal.org, and a clear message: "With the approval of just two politicians . . . any tribe could buy land anywhere and build a casino."

"The purpose [of the new spot] is to demonstrate that there are a lot more of these casinos that could come and they could be a lot closer to home than [voters] suspect," said Mr. Goddard.

Mr. Deis said he has no plans to run a response ad.

"They are trying to scare people with a ridiculous scenario. We are not going to let them set the agenda," he said.

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