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Tribes State Their Case In Ad Blitz Gaming Touted As Source Of Cash For Schools, Jobs

Tribes are upping the ante in the public opinion game, hoping that spending huge sums on a pro-gaming media blitz proves a good gamble.

Three North Idaho Indian tribes - the Coeur d’Alenes, Kootenais and Nez Perce - have fired up the airwaves with slickly produced TV ads touting gaming as a source of money for schools and jobs. The campaign comes at a critical time when the state Senate is looking at a bill that would ban video pull-tab machines.

“We’re going to battle this out as much as we have to,” said Laura Stensgar, marketing director for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s gaming operations. “We’re not going to take this lying down.”

The commercials are in frequent rotation on Boise’s three major network affiliates, Stensgar said, and also are being shown on cable TV in North Idaho. Tribes also are waging a print advertising campaign, running ads in several Idaho newspapers.

Stensgar wouldn’t say how much the tribes are spending, only that it is a significant amount. In Boise, the ads run an average of five times per day on each of the three networks, she said. Dan Wilmot, an account executive with Boise’s ABC affiliate, said some of the ads run during pricey prime-time slots costing up to $600 each.

“It would be safe to say that it’s a pretty aggressive run,” said Dayne Hanna, president of Hanna & Associates, the Coeur d’Alene ad agency orchestrating the campaign.

The tribes felt it would be better to spend the money now than regret not spending it later, Stensgar said. The campaign, themed “Idaho Tribal Gaming, Everybody Wins” will continue through the first week of March, she said.

The broadcast and print spots are virtually the same. One print ad reads “Tribal gaming has Lisa playing the numbers,” and shows a picture of a little girl’s face, a chalkboard covered with equations and an American flag behind her. It trumpets the $650,000 gaming has given to tribal and public schools so far.

Another ad reads “Tribal gaming just gave the Powels a house advantage.” A family is shown standing outside their new home, a sold sign blowing in the wind. The caption says unemployment on reservations has dropped about in half - to 15 percent - because of gaming.

“We tried to focus on the real issues at hand, and that’s people,” Hanna said.

Gov. Phil Batt’s bill that would end video gaming won introduction to a Senate committee last Wednesday. Stensgar said the Coeur d’Alenes already were working on the campaign, but since things were moving so fast they joined forces with other tribes to get the ads out the door.

“It was very enlightening to see the tribes working together to get our message out there, to speak with one voice,” Stensgar said.

Apparently, someone is listening. Tribal lobbyists are “reporting that the governor’s office has been inundated with phone calls” in support of tribal gaming, Stensgar said.

The tribes have hired high-powered lobbyists to make their case in the Legislature. The Coeur d’Alenes have hired Bill Roden, a former Senate majority leader and one of the most influential lobbyists in Boise.

The Kootenais have Skip Smyser, former chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. The Nez Perce have hired David Kerrick, who was the well-respected Senate majority leader just last year.

Stensgar said tribes were surprised at Batt’s opposition to tribal gaming. She felt Batt was in favor of getting tribal members off the public dole and into jobs, she said.

“I don’t understand,” Stensgar said. “They want to keep us down…There just seemed to be a complete turnaround.”

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Ward Sanderson Staff writer Staff member Betsy Z. Russell contributed to this report.

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