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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Tribe’s Lottery Backed Legislators Feel Cda Tribal Plan Is A Winner

State officials and several North Idaho lawmakers - even those morally opposed to gambling - said Thursday they support the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s proposed national lottery.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Sen. Tim Tucker, D-Porthill. “We ought to stay out of it. A lottery is a self-tax - a willing buyer and a willing seller.”

The lottery, which would be available in 36 states via telephone, would be the largest lottery in U.S. history. One projection puts revenues at $400 million in three years.

“They could buy Coeur d’Alene Lake, then,” chuckled Rep. Don Pischner, R-Coeur d’Alene, who buys a lottery ticket every week.

“Fair’s fair,” said Sen. Mary Lou Reed, D-Coeur d’Alene. “The state of Idaho has a lottery, and the tribe should be able to do anything the state can do.”

“I would have to support anything that would improve conditions for the tribes,” said Rep. Marv Vandenberg, D-Coeur d’Alene. “Anything we did to restrict that (lottery), I fear, would restrict our own (state) lottery.”

The matter didn’t come up during a morning meeting between Coeur d’Alene tribal members and Gov. Phil Batt, said Batt’s spokeswoman, Amy Kleiner. But she said Batt supports the tribe’s efforts.

“He thinks it’s fine,” she said. “They have a right to do it.”

That right comes from a 1992 gaming compact, ratified by the Legislature, which spells out what sorts of gambling the tribe can operate on reservation land. The compact clearly allows a lottery, provided the tribe complies with rules regarding security, accounting and employee background checks.

“As long as they abide by the compact, the state has no problem with it,” said deputy attorney general David High.

High said state officials aren’t worried the game would compete with the Idaho state lottery, which brings in $17 million per year.

“It’s kind of a non-issue,” he said. “It may be competition, but that’s the way the compact’s written.”

Even legislators who oppose gambling said they’re not likely to fight the Coeur d’Alene proposal.

“I don’t believe it’s healthy for a society or a community,” said Sen. Gordon Crow, R-Coeur d’Alene. “But I believe the tribes have argued their sovereignty, and I believe their sovereignty will only grow over the years.”

“I don’t like the idea of a lottery, period,” said Rep. Tom Dorr, R-Post Falls.

But with the state in the lottery business, he said, it seems hypocritical to try to stop the tribe from doing a similar - albeit larger - thing.

“If they have the ability to run a $400 million business, more power to them,” Dorr said.

Tribal officials remain tightlipped about the lottery, which they expect to start sometime this year. Coeur d’Alene tribal chairman Ernie Stensgar declined comment Thursday, saying the tribe will make a formal announcement in March.