Washington Tribes at Risk
By Earl
American Indian tribes here as well as “non-tribal gambling interests” are contributing heavily to the election campaigns of members of the Washington State legislature. What is at stake is hundreds of millions of dollars in gambling profits or potential profits. Next year’s legislation in the state’s legislative bodies should be decisive in determining both gambling revenues for Native Americans and non-tribal rights for some of that gambling revenue.

The sympathy from politicians is two-fold. Some would tend to support the tribes, who hope to keep by law their exclusive right to operate slot machines and similar games that have brought in millions of dollars in recent years to their people. On the other hand, politicians are perhaps more likely to ply their legislative favors on the heavier campaign contributors, the non-tribal investors who want to compete with the Indians by having the right to offer the same lucrative slot machines in their various, widespread establishments, which include “card rooms, bingo halls, bars, restaurants and bowling alleys.”

State Senator Margarita Prentice, Chair of the Labor, Commerce and Financial Institutions Committee, which addresses gambling issues, said of the state’s own need of revenue derived from gambling: “It's going to be very tempting for some folks [legislators] because we're going to be having some pretty hard times financially.” But it will take a 60% majority vote in both the House and the Senate, and the approval of Governor Gary Locke, who is known to oppose the idea, before non-tribal slots gambling become sanctioned.

The issue is not likely to be decided by party lines. Both Democrats and Republicans have members who oppose gambling on moral grounds, but whose nay votes would keep the status quo and not harm the Indians. And legislators from both parties who are worried about how to finance state responsibilities, rather than force drastic spending cuts that would hurt their voters, will likely vote for the non-tribal gambling expansion, hurting (only) the Indians.

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