Eye On Boise

CdA Tribe details education donations from gaming proceeds

Betty Squires, of Moscow, tries her luck at the Coeur d’Alene Casino on Wednesday. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has donated $16.8 million to schools and other educational causes since 1994, under its pledge to donate 5 percent of its net profits to education. (Kathy Plonka)
Betty Squires, of Moscow, tries her luck at the Coeur d’Alene Casino on Wednesday. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has donated $16.8 million to schools and other educational causes since 1994, under its pledge to donate 5 percent of its net profits to education. (Kathy Plonka)

When the Coeur d’Alene Tribe first signed a gaming compact with the state of Idaho in 1992, tribal leaders insisted on donating 5 percent of net casino gaming proceeds to education on or near their reservation – a gesture that has added up to $16.8 million in donations since 1994, including $1.5 million this year and $1.8 million last year. “The tribe originated the idea,” said David High, the now-retired deputy Idaho attorney general who for years oversaw negotiations with the state’s Indian tribes over gaming. “They didn’t have to do it.” In fact, High said, the National Indian Gaming Regulatory Act forbids states from taxing or assessing any kind of fees on the proceeds of tribal gaming. “Congress intended the tribes to get the financial benefit of Indian gaming and did not want the states trying to take a piece of that,” he said. But in the case of the Coeur d’Alenes, “The tribe has agreed to it is the thing,” High said.

Later, the tribe wrote the 5 percent contribution into a tribal gaming initiative that Idaho voters strongly approved in 2002, prompting two other Idaho tribes, the Kootenai and Nez Perce, to add it to their compacts as well. The result has been millions donated to schools and educational programs; you can read my full story here from Sunday's Spokesman-Review. The Coeur d'Alenes agreed to open their books on their educational donations for this article; the largest recipient over the years has been the Plummer/Worley School District.

Idaho's fourth gaming tribe, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in eastern Idaho, doesn't have a 5 percent donation clause in its compact. The Sho-Bans signed their compact with the state in 2000, and included a clause calling for a federal court case looking into which gambling machines were legal and which weren't. But their compact also included a clause saying if any other tribe got permission to operate specific machines, they could have them too.

The court case hadn't proceeded far when the initiative passed in 2002. The state tried to get the Sho-Bans to amend their compact to comply with the 2002 initiative, which not only included the 5 percent education donations, but also imposed limits on growth in the allowed number of gaming machines. The Sho-Bans went to federal court, and the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals sided with them in 2006, saying they didn't have to amend their compact. That left the Sho-Bans without either the 5 percent contribution requirement or the initiative's growth limits.

The success of the Coeur d'Alene Casino Resort Hotel, which has made the North Idaho tribe the second-largest employer in North Idaho, behind only Kootenai Medical Center, has prompted some grumbling in recent years over who got how much of the education money. That prompted the tribe to stop holding formal ceremonies announcing the donations for the past two years, which then led to speculation that the tribe no longer was making them, despite a statement from the director of the state Lottery Commission, which oversees tribal gaming, that the 5 percent pledge had been been met.

The hubbub prompted a series of public records requests to the Lottery Commission; most sought a breakdown of who got how much money from the Coeur d'Alenes' 5 percent donations, but the lottery doesn't have that information. Both the tribe's compact with the state and the 2002 initiative say the donations are handed out "at the sole discretion of the tribe."

The only information the tribes hand over to the Lottery Commission is their audited financial statement, which shows the 5 percent figure, along with other proprietary information about their gaming operations, such as, in some cases, background checks on employees and information about security procedures. The Coeur d'Alene Tribe's compact with the state notes that the information the tribe hands over to the state is exempt from public disclosure under the trade secrets clause of the Idaho Public Records Law; it also states that if a court finds otherwise, the tribe no longer has to supply the documents to the state. Compacts between the state and the other tribes contain similar trade-secrets confidentiality provisions.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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