Democratic lawmakers in Washington state have proposed tax increases to help fill the state’s billion budget gap. Republicans, however, oppose tax increases and favor offering non-Native American casinos the chance to have the same slots as tribal casinos, with a percentage of revenues going to state coffers.
Proponents say the move would generate $160 million next fiscal year and $380 million two years after that. Bills soon will be introduced in the House and Senate that would allow a limited number of electronic slot machines in 60 existing licensed card rooms, with a maximum of 7,875 machines statewide.
Rep. Gary Alexander, the ranking Republican on the state House Ways and Means Committee, said, “This to me seems like a pretty lucrative option. Besides generating significant amounts of money, it also hits the other major issue we’re addressing, and that is putting people back to work.”
Senator Jerome Delvin, who plans to sponsor legislation in the Senate, said Republicans want to make it easier for small, non-tribal gambling operations to compete with tribal mega-casinos. “If you are going to have gambling, it should be equal between non-Indian and Indian,” he said.
The state’s 28 tribal casinos do not pay a percentage of revenues to the state, nor do they pay local gambling taxes and business and occupation taxes like non-tribal casinos. In fiscal year 2011, tribal casinos had an estimated $1.95 billion in net revenues, up from $1.57 billion in 2009.
Arguing against the measure is Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire, who said, “If I had my way, we would not have any gambling in Washington state at all, on or off reservation.”
Last month, at the request of Republicans, Gregoire held an emergency meeting with the leaders of 24 tribes to see if they were “interested in revenue sharing or something short of revenue sharing. I laid out the crisis that we’re in, and the cuts that I was going to make are going to impact not just all of the non-tribal folks in the state, but the tribal folks. Then I simply said, ‘Bottom line, is there anything you can do to help us?’”
Gregoire said she still has not heard from the tribes.