Idaho gaming comes under fire

State leaders call for another day in court

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho’s tribal casinos came under fire Feb. 9 when a group
of the state’s top lawmakers proposed a resolution asking the attorney
general to check on the constitutionality of Idaho’s gaming laws. At issue
is whether the Idaho Constitution bans machines used at Indian casinos.

“This measure is a direct challenge to the ability of Indian tribes within
the state of Idaho to conduct gaming operations on their own land and
secure their own economic future in cooperation with our fellow citizens of
Idaho,” said Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman Chief Allan, who is also vice
chairman of the state’s Council on Indian Affairs.

Idaho’s constitution is tough on gambling. In fact, it was hastily amended
in 1992 after tribes asked for compacts pursuant to the federal Indian
Gaming Regulatory Act. The amendment banned slot machines but gave the nod
to devices used to sell lottery tickets.

After years of legal wrangling, executive-level talks and a citizens’
initiative in favor of casino gaming, Idaho tribes negotiated the gaming
compacts in effect today.

“We thought the people in the state of Idaho voiced their opinion when they
approved the Indian Gaming Initiative. We are quite surprised to find that
it has resurrected,” Sam Penney, vice chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe,
said. “The Nez Perce Tribe is very disappointed with the legislative
leadership.”

Allan and Penney were among representatives from four tribal governments
and several elected officials who attended a press conference Feb. 13 in
Boise to protest H.C.R. 35. Leaders from the Shoshone-Paiute and Shoshone
Bannock tribes were present, along with Republican Reps. Eric Anderson and
Bob Nonini, and Sen. Mike Jorgensen, Council on Indian Affairs chairman.

Proposition 1 legalized tribal gaming in Idaho four years ago, but it was
challenged by anti-casino forces before being placed on the ballot, where
it passed by a 58 percent margin. Nearly 70 percent of voters approved the
measure in northern Idaho, one of the fastest-growing regions in the
nation, where the Coeur d’Alene Tribe is among the area’s top employers.

Likewise, the Nez Perce Tribe is the second-largest employer in the
vicinity of its reservation, Penney said.

“Most people think that only tribal members are employed at the various
casinos in the state,” he said. “A lot of the employees are non-Indian as
well.”

Tribes had hoped the law would define the types of machines allowed on
Indian land once and for all, but anti-gaming advocates posed a similar
challenge two years ago when the legislative council hastily passed a
motion asking the attorney general to investigate gambling laws. The
request was based on claims that an out-of-state Indian tribe sought to
build a casino near the Utah border. The tribe was never identified, and
the attorney general declined to take the case.

Rep. John A. Stevenson provided the same mysterious “Indian tribe”
rationale when he introduced the bill in the State Affairs Committee in
early February, according to unofficial minutes posted on the Legislature’s
Web site. Also, he said, the question of whether the state’s gaming
statutes agree with the Idaho Constitution has never been resolved.

Quanah Spencer, legislative director for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, said
everyone’s resources would be better spent on public safety, health care
and education.

News about the resolution came as the Coeur d’Alene Tribe prepared to
distribute an estimated $1.3 million in gaming profits to financially
strapped schools on and near the reservation in accordance with the tribe’s
gaming compact with the state.

Tribal leaders were particularly offended that legislative leaders didn’t
run the gaming question before the Idaho Indian Affairs Council.

“It is disturbing to see a few legislators, such as Speaker Bruce Newcomb,
Rep. Lawrence Denney, Pro Tem Sen. Robert Geddes, Sen. Bart Davis and Rep.
Stevenson, propose legislation without tribal consent, especially when the
tribe has made consecutive trips to Boise and made themselves available for
consultation,” Allan said. “One courtesy we expected would be that state
legislators would use the Idaho Indian Affairs Council as a forum to
discuss issues that affect tribal communities. This issue was never brought
up in the council, and it is very critical to the tribes.”

Resolution proponents could not be reached for comment.

The Indian affairs council was created in 1999 to review legislation and
policies that impacts the state and tribes. Allan said the forum can be
used to create policies that don’t cause conflict and confrontation between
Indian country and the state.

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Idaho gaming comes under fire

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