anthony pico


Before gaming and revenue our people lived in dispair, in abject and grinding poverty. Do you know how it feels to see children with swollen jaws, swollen cheeks, because they have bad teeth and can't find good dental care? Or even any dental care. Do you know what it feels like to see your people living in dispair and the reality for them is alcoholism? Do you know what it feels like to be able to have to ask others for the basic necessities of life for food? These were not -- this lifestyle was not a choice that we made. Our people were driven into arid areas. We were driven into the mountains, into the rocks. Languished there for 150, 200 years not having an opportunity to access the economics of this rich and abundant country.

People thought we were lazy because I went to school with holes in my clothes. Some people thought we were lazy because all we wanted to do supposedly was sit around and drink wine and just vegetate. You know what that was from? That was from being excluded from the economic system.

We were isolated by our poverty. We had little incentive to make contact with our outside neighbors, we had little desire to make contact with our outside neighbors because of the abject poverty we lived in. Poverty is what separated us. We lived in this poverty stricken reality because we've had our economics stripped away from us. Not being able to continue the way we were in the past, to continue to use the land in its abundance, and then being completely defeated and rubbed into the dirt so that we couldn't continue as a people.

Today we are off the welfare rolls; we are on the tax rolls. Today we're able to be positive contributors to the societies that are around and across our borders here on the Viejas Indian Reservation. We're very proud of that.

Q: How did the casino change your lives. And it wasn't that long ago. Six, five years ago?

Pico: I'll answer that in a broader sense. That the casino hasn't changed my life philosophically, emotionally or spiritually. It has required me to think in more depth. It has required me to think in the breadth of what I'm involved in. It's required me to think not only in economic terms but legislative, political and legal terms more indepth. But more importantly, it has caused our people to be able to think in terms of a long vision so that the tribe can prevail in the future.

When I was a teenager I didn't hear a whole lot of thinking and talking about what about tomorrow? What about next week? What about next month? What about next year? What about 10 years, 20, 100, 200 years from now? Now, our people are thinking in those terms, and that's because of economics. Economics requires you to do that. And it does that for every one of us individually.

We set up scholarships for every child on the reservation and the scholarships were for their higher education through doctorate, if they so desired. Every child today that's born there's a trust fund put up for that child for their higher education. What we've done is we've invested in ourselves to begin with. And we know that's the best decision we could have made and that was the priority. The priority is the children and those children not yet born, and our elders.

We have moved into the pie and everyone in this country who works hard deserves a part of that pie. Every one in this country who sacrifices and pays their taxes and pays their own way and is independent, deserves a part of that pie. And that's what we're doing today. We're paying taxes. We're working hard. You know, there's no free lunch. It's 16 hours a day, six-seven days a week. It wasn't up to a couple of months ago. I had only like ten days vacation in ten years. But that's what it takes.

Each tribal member is an investor, much like a corporation. Each person has an abstract number of shares in this corporation and so each member, not only -- that's somewhat unique I think with gaming tribes where each person then receives a dividend from this corporation. It's really for this corporation. I think that's good just like anybody who has a corporate stake in Coca-Cola or General Motors, you know. And so each person does receive a dividend from their investment.

Q: What does that dividend amount to? A monthly dividend?

Pico: It's a monthly dividend. I'm not at liberty to divulge what that is. I'm held by tribal custom tradition. (ED NOTE: the stipend amounts to slightly more than $1000 a week.)

....I believe that we're not progressing so much as we're going back to where we were independent. Where we had our own institutions, our own executive branches of government, our own legislative...our own judicial branches of government. Back to a time when we were economically independent and made our own choices for our own people. We were able to trade with who we wanted to trade with. We were free to choose our own teachers... own schools. We were back to when we had local control, back to when we had states rights.

It feels so good to be responsible. It feels so good to be a contributor rather than a liability. This is what this country wants. This country wants people to be independent, pay their own way, pay their own taxes, pay their own things. Respect other people. That's what we all want. We all want to prevail.

Q: Do you regret in any way that your success has come from gambling?

Pico: Gambling has been depicted as immoral and for those who are of that persuasion they are certainly entitled to that, and I support their right to say that. I also support the right of those who choose to make gaming a recreational activity for them and when you look at the alternative of the poverty, of the alcoholism, of the neglect of children, of the high death rate. We're talking about in this reservation alone somewhere between I think it was around eighteen percent of the children infant mortality rate -- eighteen percent of the children died between 1970 and about 1978. Now, when we look at that, of children dying, of people dying from disease, people dying from dispair, no there's no regret because the other choice is life.

Q: Do you worry what the effect of gambling will have on the people of the tribes themselves?

Pico: I worry about any unhealthy effect that there is. My father's generation, on this reservation there are very few elders left because almost all of my father's generation died from alcoholism, alcohol related illness, accidents, so when I look at a situation where a whole generation almost died out and yes, I am concerned about anything that interferes with the health and the safety of the people in this community.

Certainly if a problem arises, whether it's alcoholism, whether it's drug abuse, whether it's compulsive gamblers, we're very concerned about that and we'll continue to take steps to mitigate those things, as we do today.

Q: Do you think all Indian tribes should open casinos? Do you think this is a solution for all the tribes?

Pico: I think that because of the extreme poverty situation that probably ninety five percent of Native American tribes are in today..... I support any tribe who wants to develop economics within their reservation, whether it's developing their own natural resources. Whether it's developing their own human resources, whether it's gaming or whatever.

Q: Do you worry that too many tribes though will get into gaming? Just for instance, in California I think there are 117 or so tribes. Would that be a problem if 117 tribes decided to open casinos in the State of California?

Pico: I believe that the number of casinos on Indian reservations in California has pretty much reached its maximum. There may be another handful or so but the economics will drive the whole thing. For example, you can only have so many convenience stores on one block. You can open them up but really who's going to loan you the money to open up the 10th convenience store on one block. Somebody had to be crazy to do that, so it's the same thing with casinos. There won't be a proliferation of casinos in California because the economics just won't be there. The saturation point, we're probably near the saturation point somewhere.

Q: What do you imagine the money will mean to your tribe a generation from now, assuming everything goes as you hope it will?

Pico: It's a very easy question and it's a question that we talk about a great deal. It involves the goals of the tribe. Our goals are to prevail culturally, spiritually and economically.

This will guarantee us a place in the future for the children that are not yet born. It feels good to know that that will happen. We were endangered species. When I talk about the infant mortality rate, that's a big symptom. When I talked about my father's generation almost being annihilated from what they call the slow massacre, which is alcoholism. We're on the endangered species list. This is going to give us an opportunity -- allow us an opportunity to make a place for those generations that aren't yet born in the future.

Q: Comparing your gaming to the State's gaming, lottery, you give much better odds than they do.

Pico: In my opinion, we're exactly the same because we are government gaming. We use the proceeds for our constituency for health care, for services to the elderly, to educate our children, to mitigate environmental problems on the reservation, to diversify our economies.

Q: So it's just like the state lottery?

Pico: And the state government in using their resources for their lottery, etc., they use those for the same thing. It's the same thing.

Q: Tell me about your ad. I think it's very good, by the way. What did you want to accomplish with that ad? What's that ad trying to do?

Pico: We're trying to educate -- see, we just had an election here in the State of California and there is a high percentage, and I don't know what it is, but there's a high percentage of lawmakers who are freshman. And they have staffs, so there's several hundred people in Sacramento who don't have a clue of what went on the last couple of years. They don't have a clue of who we are. The American public and lawmakers they want to know what are Indians doing with their money? The ad is to educate what we're doing with our resources.

Q: When you say thank you at the end of that ad, who do you mean to thank?

Pico: We want to thank the American public. I think it's great that the American public I believe is in our corner. We just want to thank them for that.

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