If they win, tribal leaders pushing an Indian gambling initiative get jobs for life and a free hand to open Las Vegas-style casinos on tribal land on and off reservations.
Voters, in return, are promised a cut of the action.
In an unprecedented deal, the tribes vow to send every voter in the November election an annual check for their per capita share of 10 percent of gambling proceeds, after deduction of “reasonable expenses.”
Whether voters actually will hit the jackpot with Initiative 651 is unclear.
The tribes’ promise is not only unusual but illegal, state experts say.
“It’s an embarrassment. An insult to the voters,” grumbled Secretary of State Ralph Munro.
State law prohibits giving anything of value to voters in return for their vote for or against a candidate or ballot measure, Munro said.
“Years ago McDonald’s tried giving people coupons for free hamburgers if they would register to vote and even that wasn’t OK,” he said.
“If this initiative passes, we will take it straight to court.”
The statewide measure will be on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Jonathan McCoy, attorney for the state gambling commission, called the payment “unique.”
“Haven’t seen anything anywhere quite like it.”
Russell Lafountaine, spokesman for the initiative, guaranteed the payment.
“We will do whatever it takes to uphold the will of the voters if they pass this initiative.”
Disgusted at state limits on tribal casinos, the Spokane, Puyallup and Shoalwater Bay tribes launched I-651 to allow virtually unrestricted casino gambling, including slot machines, on tribal lands.
So far it’s been a rocky campaign.
The Public Disclosure Commission is investigating whether the tribes poured cash into the campaign with the understanding that they would be reimbursed by out-of-state gambling interests, including Bally Gaming Inc. of Las Vegas.
Voters will have to wait until after the election for the outcome of the investigation, said Susan Harris, assistant director of the PDC.
Bally, which gave $20,000 to the initiative campaign, is under scrutiny in New Jersey and Louisiana for alleged connections with organized crime.
Eighteen men connected with a Bally contractor were indicted last year on charges of defrauding Bally of more than $10 million and skimming video poker profits to organized crime. Fifteen have pleaded guilty, said Dan Horigan, Bally’s attorney in New York.
“There’s a chance that Bally, or any gaming company, can get snookered. Well, that happened here,” Horigan said. “It was probably the biggest scandal to befall regulated gambling in the U.S.”
The company is the nation’s second largest manufacturer of slot machines, he said.
Meanwhile the five board members of FTS Enterprises, the intertribal corporation set up to run the campaign, also have been criticized for secretive dealings and writing bylaws that guarantee them jobs “for their natural life” and open salaries.
“Like most board of directors, they set their own salaries,” said Scott Crowell, a consultant for Initiative 651.
If the initiative passes, the board would remain in place, administering the annual promised payment to voters.
Lafountaine said board member salaries would be in line with “comparable” jobs. “It’s not like they are going to pay themselves $250,000 a year or something.”
Any complaints about excessive salaries would be addressed through a mediation process, Crowell assured.
Hank Adams of Olympia, who filed the complaint against the initiative with the PDC, questioned whether one FTS board member, Michael Turnipseed of the Puyallup Tribal Council, is fit for the job. Turnipseed was involved in a foiled contract killing in 1976.
He was granted immunity for his testimony in the trial of the case in U.S. District Court in 1982.
“We are aware of it and we are discussing it,” Crowell said of Turnipseed’s past.
Even the number of votes needed to approve the initiative is in dispute.
The state constitution requires a minimum 60 percent vote to change gambling law, Munro said.
But the tribes insist only a simple majority is needed, because the initiative governs doings on tribal lands, governed by Indian law.
Munro maintains that as long as tribes are using the initiative process to change state law, they have to play by state rules, not their own.
Meanwhile the eyes of the gambling industry are on Washington state, where the industry could cut lucrative contracts to provide gambling machines and manage casino operations if the initiative passes.
Tribal correspondence obtained by The Spokesman-Review shows the tribes are already discussing possible deals with hotel moguls and big-wheel gambling consultants, and pressing them for campaign contributions.
“Thank you for taking the time to meet with the Board of Directors of FTS Enterprises in Las Vegas last week,” FTS director Jim Edenso wrote New York gambling consultant Beau Lange last Feb. 7.
“We are encouraging contributions of $75,000 to $100,000 by your company.”
The tribes have estimated they’ll spend about $1 million on the initiative before it’s over.
Lange helped set up meetings between the Puyallups and Carnival Hotels and Casinos of Miami, correspondence shows.
In a deal still under discussion with the Puyallups, Carnival would run an up to $300 million gambling operation on the Puyallup reservation in the Seattle-Tacoma area, in return for 30 percent of the net profits.
Lafountaine defended the contacts with national gaming interests.
“This is no different than candidates looking for PAC contributions, or Gov. Mike Lowry going to Vietnam to drum up trade.
“We are sovereign governments pursuing economic opportunity for our people.” , DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: GAMBLING PLAN Initiative 651 would: Allow expanded gambling, including slot machines, on tribal land on and off reservations. Remove all state restrictions on the size or number of gambling halls, size of bets placed, hours of operation, or type of gambling. Greatly reduce state regulation of tribal gambling.