Spokane Journal of Business

Cd’A Tribe eyes vote on gaming

Idaho Senate’s rejection of new agreement will delay some tribal resort projects

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The Coeur dAlene Tribe is considering asking Idaho voters to decide the fate of its casino operations via a statewide ballot initiative.

That comes in the wake of the Idaho Senates defeat last week of a bill that would have ratified a new gaming agreement between the tribe and the state.

The Senates action also means the Coeur dAlene Tribe will have to back off of the timetable it announced just weeks ago for a major expansion at its casino resort near Worley, says Dave Matheson, the tribes CEO of gaming operations. Thats because financing for the projects likely will be harder to come by in the absence of a new gaming agreement with the state, he says.

The Coeur dAlene Tribe, along with two other North Idaho tribes, the Kootenai and the Nez Perce, spent many months negotiating the proposed agreement, called a compact, with Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.

The agreement would have replaced the tribes current compactwhich some believed was open to court challengewith one that carried more certainty for the tribes, but with stricter limits on the types of gaming they could offer and how much gaming could expand over the next 15 years. It also would have called for the tribes to donate 5 percent of their gaming profits to a state fund to be spent on academic scholarships and gambling-addiction programs. The Idaho Senate rejected, in a 20-15 vote, enabling legislation for the compact.

The tribes now are studying whether to launch a ballot initiative that would specify the terms of a new gaming compact with the state and compel the state to approve it, Matheson says.

I believe that the people of Idaho support Indian gaming and tribal government obviously much, much more so than our own state government, he says. I believe (a ballot initiative) could be an answer to our problems.

In all likelihood, such an initiative wouldnt provide for the kinds of limitations found in the compact Kempthorne negotiated, Matheson says. Tribal gaming could expand in the state as a result.

If we go the initiative route, then we will not be limited in either location or number (of machines), and we wont be making any payment to the (new) state (fund), he says. The Coeur dAlene Tribe, however, has been contributing 5 percent of its gaming profits to North Idaho school districts and libraries.

The earliest such an initiative could be included on a statewide ballot is 2002, Matheson says, so we have time to study our options.

Another option would be for the tribes to let the courts decide the issue. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of Southern Idaho last year agreed as part of their gaming compact with the state that a federal judge should rule on what kind of gaming is legal under Idaho state law. That ruling could be years away, however, and an adverse outcome would impact the northern tribes, too, unless they have negotiated their own, updated agreement with the state.

The agreement with Kempthorne was seen as a way for northern tribes to bring certainty to the gaming issue quickly, in part so the Coeur dAlene Tribe could proceed with its expansion plans.

The defeat of the compact and the looming litigation creates a cloud of uncertainty for land-use purposes, Matheson says. It becomes very difficult to obtain conventional financing.

The tribe will attempt to obtain financing from other sources for the $30 million worth of projects it plans to build in the near term at its resort, but that kind of unconventional financing can be difficult to find and is more expensive, he says. The proposed projects include both indoor and outdoor event arenas; a recreational-vehicle park; a 72-room, second-phase addition to the tribes new 100-room hotel; an 18-hole golf course; a theme park; and a passenger train to transport guests between Spokane and the casino resort.

Earlier, the tribe said that many of those projects would get under way this year. Now, Matheson says that some of them, such as the second wing of the hotel, the indoor arena, and the train, will be postponed. The golf course definitely will proceed, however, as will the outdoor arena and some improvements to the resorts restaurant, he says.

Matheson is confident all of the projects will be built eventuallyItll just take a little bit longer, he says.

A ballot initiative that specified the terms of a new gaming compact between the northern tribes and the state could ease the tribes financing problems.

In California, a Native American gaming initiative on the ballot in 1998 won approval from 63 percent of that states voters, although the California Supreme Court later struck it down.

Matheson says he believes the Idaho electorate, like California voters, is supportive of tribes aims.

Were supposed to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, he says, and Id like to find some way to quantify the will of the people and use it to our benefit.

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