State regulators OK pacts that let tribes add slot machines
The Associated Press
OLYMPIA -- Washington state gambling regulators have approved new compacts with 27 tribes that will allow thousands more slot-style machines in reservation casinos.
Although the approval now seems certain, state House Republicans decried what they called the largest expansion of gambling in state history and urged the Bush administration to reject the compacts.
The state Gambling Commission voted 5-3 on Friday to approve the new pacts, which include a major expansion of the machines and the gambling income to the tribes, but also place a limit on the number of casinos and require tribes to help finance problem-gambling and smoking-cessation programs.
After the compacts are signed by the tribes, they go to Gov. Chris Gregoire, whose office helped negotiate on behalf of the state. After she signs them, the tribes will send them to the U.S. Interior Department for approval.
The full process is expected to take about four to six months.
"On balance, we think this is a good place for the state to operate for a period of years," said Tom Fitzsimmons, the governor's chief of staff and a central figure in the negotiations. "The governor has signaled that she will sign them."
The new compacts, dubbed X2 because they are amendments to the original compacts, expand the number of electronic slot machines from 18,225 to a maximum of 27,300. They cap the number of casinos, but give tribes authority to stay open around the clock and to offer higher stakes games.
Tribes now are allowed to operate 675 gambling machines, although the Muckleshoot, Tulalip and Puyallup tribes are allowed to lease or purchase as many as 3,000 terminals. The new compacts allow most tribes to have as many as 975 machines. The other three tribes will able to expand to 3,500 and, after three years, to 4,000.
The tally, while larger than the current level, is substantially below the 39,000 machines tribes originally expected in the 1990s, Fitzsimmons said.
The deal largely reflects the groundwork done in a sweeping new compact with the Spokane Tribe of Indians.
The Legislature, which has four voting members on the nine-member commission, has no veto over the pacts, but took generally favorable testimony at a joint House-Senate hearing on Thursday.
Lawmakers took no formal position.
Late Friday, House Republicans renewed their call for a legislative veto over expansion of tribal gambling. Rep. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, the deputy leader, asked the government to block the deal.
"The U.S. Department of Interior is our last chance to prevent the largest expansion of gambling in state history. The process has been moving like a freight train and we want to slow it down so we can fully weigh the social implications of the governor's decision.
"We don't think people fully understand what is coming down the track, and when they do, it is going to be a big surprise unfortunately."
The Republicans also questioned whether campaign contributions from the tribes to the Democrats have affected the state's position. Fitzsimmons flatly rejected that, saying neither he nor the Gambling Commission staff have considered tribes' contributions when deciding gambling policy.
"Reasonable views differ on whether this is an expansion of gambling or not, but I really don't think it's right to politicize a delicate and complex set of negotiations," he said in an interview. Republican King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, a frequent critic of gambling, has endorsed the deal because of the limits that are included in the negotiated compacts.
The commission's vote came at the earliest possible date, and reflected little dissent. Two of the three opponents, state Rep. Richard Curtis, R-Battle Ground, and former Sen. Janice Niemi, D-Seattle, complained that the compacts don't require the tribes to share profits with the state. Gregoire previously said she doesn't want to rely on expansion of gambling balance the state budget.
Ron Allen, chairman of the Washington Indian Gaming Association, recently called the agreement a fair compromise.
Tribal machines have more than tripled in the past 15 years and tribal gambling accounts for an estimated $1.2 billion of the $1.8 billion gambling industry in the state.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company