Governor turns back bill to aid Indian gambling ship

SAN DIEGO - An Indian tribe's plans to begin operating a gambling ship with Commodore Cruise Lines next month suffered a setback after Gov. Gray Davis refused to sign legislation that makes it easier for the project to operate in California waters.

The Viejas tribe, Commodore and a Mexican partner planned to begin running cruises on the Enchanted Sun from San Diego to Rosarito, Mexico, on April 14.

Tribal Chairman Anthony Pico said Thursday the cruises may have to be delayed because of the governor's decision not to sign legislation to repeal a requirement that slot machines be kept in a locked compartment while in California waters.

Commodore and the tribe wanted to change the law so that the ship's 410 slot machines only had to be turned off, a much less expensive and easier task.

The ship's operators still hope to launch the vessel on schedule but haven't figured out how they will comply with state law, Pico said.

''We'll just do what has to be done,'' he said.

Davis decided not to sign the bill, which passed in the Senate and Assembly by wide margins, because it would ''inadvertently open the door to expanding gaming'' in the state, said Hilary McLean, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Democratic Sen. John Burton of San Francisco, who authored the bill, withdrew it Wednesday after learning it would be vetoed. It could still be amended and returned to the governor before the end of the legislative session, said Dave Sebeck, a spokesman for the senator.

Viejas operates a casino in Alpine with more than 1,100 slot machines. But the tribe has sought to diversify its economic base by opening an outlet mall and buying a television station.

The tribe has spent about $6 million so far on the cruise ship venture, Pico said.

More than 200 people have already bought tickets for the cruise, which costs $58 per person.


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