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The Stakes Get Higher Deal Allows Greater Limits In Tribal Casinos

Some legislators don’t like it, but Gov. Mike Lowry went along Thursday with amendments to Indian gambling compacts that will increase betting limits and the number of gaming tables at tribal casinos.

Lowry downplayed the concerns, saying the amendments will allow the state to continue to regulate Indian gaming and “be a player.”

Gambling Commission Director Frank Miller, who negotiated the amendments, said that in exchange for the more liberal rules, the tribes agreed not to ask for further amendments for another three years.

Miller said the amendments are better than no agreement at all, noting that when tribes defy the state and operate gambling under their own rules, only the federal government has power to intervene.

Although the amendments increase betting limits, Indian casinos still won’t be a mecca for high rollers who are used to $1,000 and $2,000 limits in Las Vegas, Reno and Atlantic City.

The tribes’ wagering limits will be raised from $250 to $500, hours of operation will go from 112 hours a week to 140 hours and the number of gambling tables will be increased from 31 to 50. The amendments also limit each tribe to operating one casino.

Not all casinos can raise their wagering limits immediately - only those that have been in operation for at least six months and have proved to have little or no negative impact on neighboring communities.Miller said only three casinos are under consideration at this time - a Nooksack casino near Deming on the Canadian border, a Tulalip casino near Marysville and a Swinomish casino near Anacortes.

“This is going to be a tremendous help, not only to our casino but to others,” said Harry Cooper of the Nooksack tribe.

But state Sen. Lorraine Wojahn, D-Tacoma, was not enthusiastic.”It’s a slap in the face of the Legislature,” said Heavey, who was chairman of a legislative task force in 1993 that recommended no expansion of gambling in Washington. “This totally disregards the recommendation of the task force.”

Wojahn said the amendments expand gambling - a policy decision that should have been left to the Legislature.

Wojahn has introduced a bill under which the state Gambling Commission would be required to submit to the Legislature for approval any compact or amendments to compacts negotiated with tribes under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.

Under that act, if a state does not negotiate with the tribes in good faith over gambling, tribes can sue in federal court. The Spokane and Colville tribes in Eastern Washington were unable to reach compacts with the state and went to court.

In the meantime, they are operating casinos with slot machines.

The state contends slots are illegal, but because the tribes do not have compacts, the state has no say in what happens at those casinos.

Miller and Lowry point to that situation in defending the amendments already signed, which do not permit slot machines.In addition to signing the amendments, Lowry also signed new compacts with the Suquamish and Port Gamble tribes, which plan to open casinos in the Poulsbo-Bainbridge Island area.

So far, 11 tribes, all in Western Washington, have negotiated compacts with the state. Of those, only the Nooksack, Tulalip and Swinomish tribes have opened casinos.