Monday, July 24, 2017 This Week's Paper

Slot machines no way to balance state budget

Hopefully, efforts by Republican legislators to allow slot machines in non-tribal casinos go nowhere. This idea was floated by some GOP leaders heading into the special session of the Legislature as a way to help fill part of the state’s $2 billion budget gap.

Voters strongly oppose allowing slot machines outside of Indian reservations. In 2004, Tim Eyman got enough signatures to place his Initiative 892 on the ballot. It called for allowing more than 18,000 machines in taverns, bowling alleys, restaurants and non-tribal casinos. Washingtonians made it clear they did not want such an incursion of gaming into commercial districts and residential neighborhoods and 61 percent of voters rejected the measure.

The Legislature can allow machines into non-tribal establishments. The only thing holding it back is a lack of votes. Democrats, who control the House and Senate, claim this is an expansion of gambling and would need 60 percent or more approval. Republicans contend it is not an expansion, as it would allow machines in existing casinos, and thus would need only a simple majority vote.

Two ideas are floating around Olympia. One comes from the Recreational Gaming Association, the mini-casino industry group that offered a plan that became a bill in the last session. It would allow up to 7,875 machines in the state’s 61 cardrooms.

Washington Restaurant Association has a plan to allow up to 20,000 machines in bars and taverns. Cardrooms could have some machines under this plan, but fewer per location than under their proposal.

Advocates claim the state could generate revenue in the neighborhood of $180 million in the next fiscal year if slots are allowed off the reservations. But that is not taking into account regulatory costs for the state. Gambling is a heavily regulated industry, and the state would be required to monitor operations of thousands of new machines.

Backers claim these machines would create jobs. That raises serious doubts, as these machines operate on their own, unlike blackjack tables and roulette wheels that need a dealer on duty.

The most misleading information coming from the GOP is that an uneven playing field exists, with tribal casinos having an unfair advantage over non-tribal establishments. Comparing the two is less like comparing apples to oranges and more like apples and elephants. Non-tribal casinos are for-profit businesses. Many in this state are owned by big operations in Nevada and Canada. After paying taxes, payroll and expenses, the owners pocket the profits. Tribal casinos are owned by tribal governments. Their profits pay for tribal employees ranging from police officers to biologists to nurses. They provide day care for tribal children, college money for tribal young adults and services for tribal elders. Many tribes have gotten all their members off of welfare programs offered through the state and federal governments. Non-tribal casinos have no such social obligations.

Under gaming compacts with the state, tribes are required to give some of their profits to non-profits, from charities to arts organizations. They also must share some with local governments that provide roads, ambulance response and other public services that benefit casinos. Fife balances its budget with money from the Emerald Queen Hotel and Casino in that city. The Puyallup Tribe provides millions of dollars to support food banks, hospitals and popular events such as Freedom Fair and the Daffodil Parade.

Casinos were originally established in this state to allow tribes to have an economic foundation to provide for their people. That is why allowing mini-casinos and taverns to have slot machines is such a wrong idea. We hope Republicans will realize that. If not, we encourage the Democrats who hold the majority in the House and Senate to block these misguided proposals.