A letter from the state attorney general telling tribes to shut down video gambling has remained unanswered here.
Unofficially, though, the answer is no.
“We’d lose a lot of income and a lot of jobs,” said Dave Matheson, manager of the Coeur d’Alene tribe’s gaming hall near Worley. “And that’s something we don’t want to do.”
Last year, gamblers plugged in $30 million to play the tribe’s video lottery and video pull-tab machines. The Coeur d’Alenes came away with $3.1 million in profits and 140 jobs for members.
Matheson said a tribal lawyer is drafting an official response to the state’s letter.
Representatives of the Kootenai tribe earlier said it also will continue to use the machines. This week, Kootenai River Inn and Casino manager Tom Turpin referred calls to the tribe’s chairperson, Velma Bahe. Bahe could not be reached for comment.
Attorney General Alan Lance’s letter, sent earlier this month, cited a September U.S. District Court decision forbidding the Shoshone-Bannock tribe from keeping its games plugged in.
“Following that decision, we asked the tribes if they would cease operations of their pull-tab machines,” Deputy Attorney General Dave High said Tuesday. “We asked them to respond as soon as they could, but we did not give them a deadline.”
Federal law says any type of gaming outlawed to the general public in a given state also is illegal as a tribal business. High said he isn’t sure how things will end up if the tribes refuse to comply. “There are several alternatives,” he said. Enforcing the state’s call to shut down the games would be up to the U.S. attorney’s office in Boise.
“Some states have seized machines, some cases have been prosecuted,” High said.
Matheson, a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, said switching off electronic gaming would dim many people’s income.
“Half of our customers who come through the door come to play machines, and the majority of our revenue comes from the machines … it’s done things we’ve never been able to do.”
For some, the casino provided a first job. Parents can buy school clothes for their children. Families have purchased their first cars.
“It’s been a night-and-day difference,” Matheson said “It’s the difference between a job and despair.”
High said he recognizes the tribe’s economic woes, but added that gambling isn’t an acceptable fix.
“The tribes have high levels of poverty and unemployment,” High said. “The state, however, views gambling as contrary to public policy and we’d like to see the tribes pursue other methods of economic development.”
The state has long been opposed to electronic gaming. The tribe opened its casino more than three years ago, Matheson said, and added electronic gambling not long after.
The tribe received a letter last year from the state asking it to unplug its machines, Matheson said. But the games still are going.
“I don’t a see a change in their position, or a change in the status quo,” Matheson said.
“I’m not that alarmed.”