Voters thrashed a Tim Eyman-led initiative that would have expanded gambling in restaurants, bars and other venues. That was 2004. This is now.
With a big budget chasm threatening to yawn wider with tomorrow’s revenue forecast, The Recreational Gaming Association is back with a new video-slot machine proposal, and RGA says it could deliver $190 million a year to the state coffers.
The proposal would let about 63 house-banked card rooms or "mini-casinos" install electronic or video slot machines like those now allowed only for tribal casinos, according to RGA executive director Dolores Chiechi.
Past efforts by the RGA have failed to elicit legislative support but drew tribal opposition. The state Gambling Commission says 28 of the state's 29 tribes have compacts and 22 run 28 casinos around the state.
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But the group is using good timing – in the midst of a state fiscal crisis – and its announcement today cited a study by a Las Vegas-based consultant, Gaming Market Advisors, to claim the state could pick up $157.6 million in new revenues in 2012.
Chiechi said no specific e-slots bill has yet been introduced to the Legislature and no sponsors have been publicly identified. But Chiechi said only one Thurston County venue operating today would qualify under the proposal as drafted – the Hawks Prairie Casino in northeast Lacey.
She said Pierce County and Tacoma have bans on the casinos, but gaming facilities in Lakewood could accommodate the slots under the proposal.
Tribes are likely to fight any such incursion into their exclusive ability to offer the electronic slots – part of state-to-tribe compacts ironed out under terms of the National Indian Gaming Act of the late 1980s.
Austin Jenkins reported today on the proposal for public radio stations KUOW and KPLU. He said Democratic state Rep. John McCoy, who is a member of the Tulalip tribe, thinks RGA's proposal would hurt tribal casinos such as the Tulalips’ because gamblers could drive a shorter distance to urban card rooms.
But the RGA's video-slots proposal is much less drastic than a 2004 initiative led by Tim Eyman, which drew heavy tribal opposition. His proposal would have put slot machines in card rooms, bowling alleys and taverns that have pull tabs and punch cards.
House Democratic leaders indicated today through a spokeswoman that they had not seen the proposal yet, but that most ideas must be on the budget table.
Gov. Chris Gregoire has spoken critically about expanded gaming, but her spokeswoman Karina Shagren said the Democrat had no comments for this specific proposal.
House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt was open to the RGA proposal and said it might not require a supermajority vote in the Legislature to pass, because it doesn’t expand gambling by adding venues.
As outlined by RGA, the proposal would put a 30 percent tax on net wins with another 5 percent for local governments. About 0.37 percent of taxes would go to programs dealing with problem gambling.
The RGA cited recent polling by Elway Research and said there is 62 percent support for putting e-slots into non-tribal venues.