October 16, 1997 in Nation/World

Gaming Panel Backs Status Quo Coeur D’Alene Tribal Official Praises Outcome Of Governor’s Committee On Gambling

Betsy Z. Russell And Julie Titone S Staff writer
 

Gambling in Idaho should continue the way it is, including at tribal casinos.

That was the verdict Wednesday of the Governor’s Gaming Study Committee as it wrapped up months of public hearings and debate over how gambling should be handled.

David Matheson, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s chief executive officer for gaming, described tribal officials as “very relieved, very happy, very joyous” about the outcome.

“We have faith in the system again,” he said.

The committee approved a compromise reached between the tribes and the attorney general’s office. That recommendation will be sent to Gov. Phil Batt on Nov. 1.

Batt assembled the group, which at the outset was evenly split between those for and against gambling, to help decide how to proceed.

In the last legislative session, Batt proposed legislation designed to limit tribal gaming operations. But he withdrew it after it ran into opposition. Tribes told legislators that gaming finally is allowing them to lift themselves out of poverty.

On Wednesday, Episcopal Bishop John Thornton voted with the tribes, and the vote in favor of the status quo was 7-5.

Rep. John Tippets, R-Bennington, a gambling opponent, also joined the tribes for an 8-4 vote adopting a list of “findings,” including statements that tribal gaming is based upon “equally important public policy grounds” as state-sanctioned gaming.

Tribes have used gaming proceeds for education and other major tribal programs and have even donated proceeds to public schools.

Tribal gaming became an issue in Idaho when voters approved a state lottery. Under federal law, sovereign Indian tribes may conduct their own gaming operations if those operations are legal in the state where they’re located.

Leroy Wilder, an attorney who spoke on behalf of the Kootenai Tribe, said, “It’s hypocrisy to suggest that tribes can’t do it, it’s illegal, but states can do it.”

The document defines gaming that exists in Idaho now and recommends that it be allowed to continue. It also recommends limiting the expansion of gaming, allows the state an enforcement role in tribal gaming that it’s never had before, and allows both the state and tribes to sue each other if they can’t resolve disputes.

“The tribes made concessions,” Wilder said.

Said Matheson, “We accepted reasonable limits on the types and number of machines, subject to negotiation.”

The tribes also agreed to what Wilder called “strict enforcement provisions.”

Tribes already felt they were on on sound legal ground with their gaming operations, Wilder said. But they wanted to reach an agreement with the state to end strife and to allow them to plan for their futures.

Lt. Gov. Butch Otter, the nonvoting chairman of the committee, noted that Idahoans have voted both in favor of a state lottery and for a state constitutional amendment banning casino gambling.

But he said the picture of “casino gambling” he had when he voted was of Las Vegas-style roulette wheels, slot machines and craps tables.

Idaho’s tribal casinos feature video lottery terminals, which dispense a slip of paper to tell players if they’ve won or lost. There are no casino-style card or dice games.

Otter said, “Perhaps we didn’t envision all these whiz-bangs and buzzers and all those things that go on in these buildings on the reservations we call casinos; perhaps we didn’t envision those with the lottery. But the big question is, did we envision the lottery as it is today?”

Idaho’s lottery includes instant-win scratch-off tickets that sometimes are sold in machines, on-line lottery games and multi-state games.

Ernie Stensgar, Coeur d’Alene tribal chairman, said he was ecstatic about the committee’s decision. The Tribal Council has been “sitting right on the edge,” he said, wondering what would happen to the education and social programs supported with gaming proceeds if the vote had gone the other way.

North Idaho residents who spoke up in favor of the tribes’ position made a big difference, Stensgar said.

“Our non-Indian friends really, really helped.”

, DataTimes MEMO: Cut in the Spokane edition.

This sidebar appeared with the story:

STILL AT ISSUE

The Governor’s Gaming Study Committee did not address the issue of Internet gambling in its decision Wednesday.

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has proposed a national lottery via the Internet but has run into opposition from Idaho and other states.

“That will probably end up in court,” said David Matheson, the tribe’s chief executive officer for gaming.

Cut in the Spokane edition.

This sidebar appeared with the story: STILL AT ISSUE The Governor’s Gaming Study Committee did not address the issue of Internet gambling in its decision Wednesday. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has proposed a national lottery via the Internet but has run into opposition from Idaho and other states. “That will probably end up in court,” said David Matheson, the tribe’s chief executive officer for gaming.


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