When it comes to slot machines, the house always wins, a lesson initiative monger Tim Eyman learned last year, when he was taken to the cleaners over I-892, by far his most lopsided political defeat ever. I-892 would have put 19,000 slot machines into hundreds of bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and non-tribal casinos, scattered through nearly every community in the state. But voters overwhelming rejected the proposal by a 62% to 38% margin… a landslide by any measure.
Yet, as the Tacoma News Tribune editorial board points out, Gov. Christine Gregoire apparently wasn’t paying attention:
Washingtonians made it clear last November that they didn’t want their state inundated with Las Vegas-style machine gambling. They didn’t want it even if their rejection cost them a tax break, which is what I-892 offered the electorate in exchange for doubling the number of gaming machines in Washington state.
Yet Gregoire’s negotiators have now come up with a deal that would let the Spokane Tribe of Indians operate up to 7,500 gaming machines in exchange for giving the state a share of the revenues.
And the compact with the Spokanes would be the least of it. Nineteen other tribes operate casinos in Washington, and federal law gives them the right to virtually any gambling privilege any other tribe obtains from the state. If the Spokanes get 7,500 slot machines, the state would be more or less obligated to give 7,500 machines each to the Puyallups, the Muckleshoots, the Tulalips and so on, provided they accept the same revenue-sharing arrangement.
No question, the Spokane compact was negotiated under direct instructions from the Governor’s Office, and some may find it curious that I would now use this forum to attack the decisions of a governor I have spent the better part of a year stalwartly defending. But I have an obligation to use what little influence I have to promote sound public policy… and the Spokane compact simply ain’t it.
If Gov. Gregoire signs this compact, setting the state irreversibly down the road towards an absolutely massive expansion of gambling, she will be making a huge mistake that will disrupt local economies and cause untold suffering amongst a new wave of problem gamblers and their families. Problem gamblers are not just an unfortunate byproduct of the gambling industry, they are its best customers, accounting for forty to sixty percent of its profits. And slot machines are the most addictive form of gambling ever devised, scientifically designed to create compulsion.
But the Spokane compact and its inevitable impact statewide would not only be a policy disaster, I predict it will be a political disaster for Gov. Gregoire herself. We’re talking about an explosion of slot machines — exactly what voters rejected in 1995, 1996 and again in 2004 — and the governor simply cannot afford to so blatantly ignore the will of voters who, however unfairly, already question her legitimacy. The people have spoken on the issue of slot machines, again and again and again, and signing this compact would be perceived as a slap in the face of the voting public.
Gov. Gregoire doesn’t have to take my word for it… she should go to the tribes who spent over $5 million opposing I-892 and ask to see their polling data. Opposition to gambling expansion cuts across demographic and party lines, and has been unchanged for at least a decade. Indeed, not a dime of the No campaign’s money was spent convincing voters that more slot machines would be bad for WA’s communities… all the tribes had to do was educate voters that I-892 would expand the number of slot machines, and that was enough to send the initiative to an overwhelming defeat.
If voters would resoundingly reject a slot machine measure that would have put money back into their pockets, why would they accept a similar compact that puts the revenues into government coffers instead? The people wisely decided that the tax revenues from these slot machines simply is not worth the impact on their communities, and Gov. Gregoire would be advised to heed their wisdom.
Dismiss me as a loudmouthed, political neophyte if you want, but Gov. Gregoire, I urge you to listen to voters. The citizens of this state simply cannot afford the Spokane compact. And neither can you.