The Coeur d’Alene Tribe won approval to run the biggest lottery in American history.
The monster-sized national game could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars, according to gaming experts.
Tribal officials expect the National Indian Lottery to begin sometime this year. It would be available in all 36 states where lotteries are allowed plus Washington, D.C. Players would buy tickets from the tribe’s Idaho reservation over the telephone using a credit card and an 800 number.
“This is a big project and we’re looking forward to it,” said Laura Stensgar, marketing manager for the tribe’s bingo casino in Worley.
But experts say the game could be tied up in court before it gets started.
“I still think there are some legal barriers,” said I. Nelson Rose, a law professor in Whittier College’s Los Angeles office and a leading expert on gaming law. “I don’t think it’s a done deal.”
The National Indian Gaming Commission on Tuesday approved a management contract between the tribe and Unistar Entertainment Inc., a newly formed management company in Denver.
The commission, formed in 1993, ensures Indian gaming activities comply with federal law. The tribe submitted the proposal 15 months ago and has been working on the project more than three years.
Tribal officials were sketchy about details Wednesday. They plan to make an announcement in Washington, D.C., in March. They were mum on how profits would be used, how the game would be played and exactly how much money would be involved.
“With the game revenue and jackpot rollovers, the average jackpot size is potentially staggering,” said Dave Matheson, tribal gaming director.
National gaming experts agreed the lottery could mean huge jackpots.
“The potential is enormous,” said Matt Connor, senior writer for Gaming and Wagering Business Magazine in New York City. “I’ve never heard of anything like this.”
The Multi-State Lottery Association’s “Powerball” jackpot hit $100 million in November. Only 17 states participate in that lottery.
“You’d be more than doubling that,” Connor said. “It could be phenomenal.”
It would mean even bigger money for the tribe.
The tribe’s bingo casino grosses about $14 million a year, with $1 million in profit. One projection puts revenues from a national lottery at $400 million in three years.
But Connor said that figure probably is low.
Some states are almost certain to challenge the lottery. But, at least initially, Idaho doesn’t appear to be among them.
The tribe’s 1992 gaming compact with the state provides for a lottery, said David High, with the Idaho attorney general’s office.
“I think they (the tribe) have the ability to do it,” he said.
Other states, fearing the loss of money, may object to telephone sales. They may argue the game is not being played on Indian land.
Former Idaho lottery director Wally Hedrick used that argument in 1993 when he complained that the tribe’s proposal would cut into Idaho’s $17 million annual lottery earnings.
Current lottery director Dennis Jackson said Wednesday he is unfamiliar with the proposal.
Other states also could try to demand the tribe negotiate individual gaming compacts.
“The tribe can make a very good case under federal law that it doesn’t need to,” Rose said, but a lawsuit could tie operations up for months or years.
Regardless, the tribe’s plan is expected to attract attention in a rapidly blossoming industry.
Players wagered $28.9 billion at Indian games nationwide in 1993. Revenues hit $2.6 billion. Indian gaming revenues have doubled every year since 1991.
Players wagered $30.8 billion on state and multi-state lotteries in 1993 and produced $12.8 billion in revenue.
Conner said the non-Indian lotteries could be outraged by the tribe’s plan, just as Las Vegas-style casinos were once furious at the prospect of state lotteries.
“Atlantic City is still pretty skittish,” Connor said. “My gut reaction is the lottery industry could react the same way.”
Rose predicted the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s move will “open the door for every other tribe in the country to try the same thing.”
Oneida Indians in Wisconsin already host televised bingo, he said. He said he would expect “they would instantly try to jump on that bandwagon.
“The question is how long the monopoly would last,” he said.
xxxx Just the ticket The tribe’s lottery would be available in all 36 states where lotteries are legal. Tickets could be purchased with a credit card using a toll-free number.