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News >  Idaho

Amid misgivings, Idaho lawmakers introduce bill to target tribal gaming

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 8, 2017

BOISE – An Idaho House committee agreed to introduce legislation Wednesday aimed at targeting tribal gaming, including the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s successful casino, though many members expressed doubts about the bill.

House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, made the proposal, seeking to alter part of the law created when voters passed Proposition 1 in 2002 to authorize tribal casinos. Specifically, Loertscher wants to add a clause banning slot machines or anything that looks or acts like one.

“This is a matter of policy,” Loertscher told the committee that he chairs. “We’ve been bothered by several gaming issues over the last few years. … This is a major policy thing that we need to actually address.”

Loertscher said the Idaho Constitution bans slot machines or machines that look or act like slot machines, and he said, “The courts have not addressed this issue, as far as I know.”

But House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said the issue has been to court twice, and both times the court found in favor of the tribes.

“It’s an old fight, there’s old wounds,” Crane said, adding, “I’m not sure you’re going to fix this issue in the Idaho Legislature.”

Idaho’s Indian tribes won the right to have casinos on their reservations when the state authorized a state lottery; under federal law, sovereign tribes can offer Class III gaming if anyone else in a state also can. That meant the tribes could offer their video gaming machines, which under federal law are the legal equivalent of the state lottery. Negotiated compacts with the state govern the tribes’ gaming activities.

Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer, voted against introducing Loertscher’s bill; the bill introduction was approved on a party-line vote with the panel’s two Democrats objecting.

“The issue here is, I think, a personal matter with our chairman,” said Jordan, a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

She said Idaho’s tribes have been conducting their gaming operations strictly according to state and federal law and constitutional standards.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, questioned Loertscher’s fiscal note on his bill, which stated, “There is no fiscal impact since there is no state or local excise tax on tribal gaming.”

But under both state law requirements and their gaming compacts, tribes donate millions in gaming proceeds to Idaho schools and also tap that revenue source to fund their tribal government operations on their reservations. Idaho’s five Indian tribes employ thousands and are among the top 10 employers in the state.

Tyrel Stevenson, legislative director for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, said the tribe is concerned “about the Legislature overturning the clear will of the voters when they passed Proposition 1 in 2002.”

Two court cases tested the law that the initiative created. One, Idaho v. Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, was decided by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 2006; the other, Knox v. Otter, was decided by the Idaho Supreme Court in 2009.

“We feel like it’s already been fought and settled,” Stevenson said.

The committee’s vote clears the way for a full hearing on the bill, should Loertscher, the committee chairman, decide to schedule one.

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