BOISE – Gambling opponents launched a new attack on tribal casinos in Idaho on Monday on moral grounds, introducing legislation calling for a state-funded legal challenge, declaring tribal gaming machines unconstitutional and requiring lawmakers to approve any gaming compact changes.
“The purpose of this is to again establish legislative control over the gambling in the state of Idaho,” former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Robert Bakes, a gambling opponent, told the Senate State Affairs Committee.
He and political activist Mike Duff introduced the bill on behalf of “United Families Idaho,” a group that was active in favor of a successful 2006 anti-same-sex marriage constitutional amendment in Idaho, an effort largely funded by eastern Idaho businessman Frank VanderSloot. Duff said his group would like to see the Legislature consider and pass the bill as quickly as possible. But committee Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, said the bill will go no further; it won’t get a hearing this year.
“It’s very far-reaching,” McKenzie said. “I don’t know if it’s the Legislature’s prerogative necessarily to say what the state Constitution means. I think the courts would interpret that.”
Helo Hancock, legislative director for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, said, “It’s nice to hear it’s not going any further this session. … It’s disappointing to see that some people are still trying to attack the tribes and gaming. Really, it’s an issue that we thought we put behind us long ago.”
Current tribal casinos in Idaho are legal under a voter-approved initiative and under compacts negotiated with the state, and they’ve survived multiple reviews in court. But Bakes and Duff said they want a new legal challenge on moral grounds.
“We are Idaho’s largest non-partisan, non-sectarian pro-family advocacy group,” Duff told the Senate committee. “We utilize social science research to validate the moral and legal standards by which the institution of the family is maintained and preserved in Idaho. We are here today … because we’re very concerned about Article 3, Section 20 of the Idaho Constitution. We believe that constitutions are where the people establish their highest standards of morals and values, and we’re concerned about activities which seem to be circumventing that particular section.”
The bill also would place restrictions on Idaho Lottery games, which Duff said his group believes are moving toward unconstitutional electronic games.
In 2002, Idaho voters favored tribal casinos by 57.8 percent, passing an initiative declaring them legal in the state.
On Monday morning, the Senate committee agreed to introduce the Bakes/Duff bill on a divided voice vote.
Duff, who ran unsuccessfully for the Legislature this year, is a former campaign manager for the late U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth who is now an eastern Idaho sheep rancher and game farm part-owner. Bakes served on the Idaho Supreme Court from 1971 to 1993.
Duff said, “We’re about 2,700 families across the state who are intent on defending the family as the fundamental unit of society.”
Hancock said, “These types of initiatives are really not productive and really ignore the benefit that tribal gaming has brought, not only to tribes, but to entire communities and regions in the state. … It’s basically ignoring what the people of Idaho have wanted and it’s ignoring what the courts have also affirmed. … We’ll watch it closely and see what happens.”