Gov. Phil Batt is preparing legislation to tighten up Idaho’s lottery law to make it clear that video gambling machines are illegal.
The change is aimed squarely at Idaho tribes, which have argued that the lottery law indirectly allows reservation casinos to operate video machines, which are similar to slot machines. Such machines operate at the Kootenai River Inn near Bonners Ferry and the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Bingo Casino at Worley.
The tribes claim the machines fall into the same category as games allowed by the state lottery law. Under federal law, Indian tribes may offer any type of gambling that is legal elsewhere in the state.
Tribal leaders who met with Batt Wednesday morning were concerned about his proposal.
“We don’t see any reason for the bill,” said Marjorie Zarate, a Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council member. “We believe we’re operating legally.”
Representatives of the Coeur d’Alene, Kootenai and Shoshone-Bannock tribes “recognized that we were not going to agree (with Batt) on the gaming issue,” Zarate said. So they set the issue aside to spend their meeting discussing education, affordable housing, welfare reform and energy and fishery issues.
“The governor doesn’t believe that gambling is healthy,” said Batt’s spokesman, Frank Lockwood. “He’s concerned about the impact it has on society, and he doesn’t want to see it proliferate.”
Batt believes that only gambling that is allowed off the reservations should be allowed on them - “no more, no less,” Lockwood said. That would include lotteries and parimutuel betting on horse races, along with bingo and similar games. Thus, Batt supported the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s plans for a national phone-in lottery.
Batt’s legislation, which could be introduced within the next week, adds specific language to the law that legalized the Idaho lottery. The new language forbids the lottery from offering “any form of casino gambling” and says it “shall not offer any video lottery or video pull-tab games or any similar electronic or electromechanical imitation or simulation of any form of gambling.”
David High, a deputy Idaho attorney general who is drafting the legislation, said, “The thought there was that there was never an intent that the lottery would engage in video gaming.
“This would clarify that they were not to do that. And indirectly, if the state was not doing that, the tribe should not be doing it either.”
Lockwood said Idahoans who voted to legalize a state lottery “did not envision video machines that look like slot machines and play like slot machines.
“They were voting to approve the lottery, not casinos,” he said.
Idaho voters in 1992 approved a constitutional amendment banning casino gambling.
Sen. Laird Noh, R-Kimberly, earlier had introduced a non-binding memorial calling on federal officials to crack down on reservation gambling that violates Idaho law or the Idaho Constitution.
Tribal leaders were somewhat offended by that measure. “We just thought it was unfounded,” Zarate said. “There was no real basis for it. We are not operating illegally.”
Noh said Wednesday that if the governor’s legislation takes care of the matter, he’d drop his memorial.
Batt wants to help tribes with economic development and other concerns, Lockwood said.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Batt agreed to appoint a tribal representative to the state’s Affordable Housing Commission. He also agreed to set up meetings between tribal officials and welfare officials to discuss the effects of welfare reform, and between tribal leaders and the state’s law enforcement chief to discuss law-enforcement issues.
“The governor wants to encourage economic opportunities for the tribes,” Lockwood said. “He’s worked hard to establish a good relationship with them, and so he’s open to ideas for how that can be accomplished.
“He’d just like to see them find a path to prosperity that doesn’t revolve entirely around gambling.”