Voters roll snake eyes in media coverage of Spokane gambling compact

It’s been a hectic week or so for me, and one of the issues that’s fallen through the cracks has been the manufactured controversy over Tribal contributions to Gov. Chris Gregoire and the state Democratic Party in the wake of last year’s Spokane Tribe gambling compact. Writing in the Seattle P-I, reporter Chris McGann kicked off the recent brouhaha with a lede I would have sworn was penned by WSRP communications director Patrick Bell, if not for its coherence (and the lack of tell-tale food stains).

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire is benefiting from more than $650,000 in campaign contributions from Indian tribes that hit the jackpot in 2005 when she killed a gambling compact potentially worth more than $140 million a year to the state.

Yes, there are a few reporters who actually have a comprehensive understanding of Washington’s gambling industry and the state and federal statutes that govern it… but McGann clearly ain’t one of them. Indeed, apart from the TNT’s Peter Callaghan, no journalist has written more extensively or authoritatively on state gambling issues than, well, me, and so when I tell you that the spin that has dominated recent media coverage of this story is total bullshit, I do so backed up by a four-year history of writing on this subject that is both credible and dare I say, bipartisan in its criticism of both political parties.

I’ll address the issue of campaign contributions in a follow-up post, but in implying that the tribes “hit the jackpot” when Gov. Gregoire rejected the initial Spokane compact, McGann displayed zero understanding of the statutes governing the process, the political machinations surrounding negotiations, and the details of the compact itself. In fact, far from hitting the jackpot, Gregoire’s rejection of the 2005 compact was a huge blow to the ambitions of the entire tribal gaming industry, and an unexpected victory for those of us working to curb gambling expansion statewide.

Let’s be clear… the 2005 compact was the deal the Spokanes negotiated—these were the terms they wanted—and while it would have shared revenue with the state, it would have set in motion a massive expansion of gambling that would forever reshape the face of Washington. In exchange for revenue sharing the state gave up huge concessions, including 24-hour operations, no betting limits, casino credit, and an off-reservation casino. But as I wrote at the time:

… the most dramatic and dangerous concession was granting the Spokane Tribe rights to 7,500 slot machines… as many as 4000 at a single location. Under previous compacts, each tribe was limited to directly owning only 675 slot machines; via leasing agreements with other tribes, as many as 1500 could be placed at a single location. Spokane’s 7,500 slots would be a huge increase over the 18,000 slots currently in operation statewide.

And that was just the beginning. Under federal law, any terms we offered the Spokanes must also be made available to the other 27 recognized tribes, eventually leading to an exponential expansion of slot machines, and the creation of Las Vegas style casinos throughout the state, on and off reservation. The 2005 compact would have led to both a public health and a political disaster, and as I have done throughout my reporting on this subject, I never shied away from warning the governor about the potential consequences.

Whatever the intent, this is a slap in the face of voters who just last year, overwhelmingly rejected Initiative 892 and its flood of slot machines… and if the governor signs this compact, hurling us down a one way road towards unfettered casino gambling, there will be a price to pay at the polls.

Washington state is already suffering from an epidemic of problem gambling, with all the inherent social and financial costs… and the last thing we need is for our state and local governments to become addicted to gambling too. This compact would set a dangerous precedent that would be impossible to overturn. It is bad for families, and it is bad for the smaller, rural tribes who would be shut out of leasing agreements. It is bad for Washington state.

And we need to let Governor Gregoire know that if she signs this compact, it will be bad for her too.

Revenue sharing bad for Washington state? Don’t just take my word for it, listen to State Sen. Margarita Prentice (whose opponent, by the way, I support in the primary) echoing my analysis nearly three years later:

Tribal gaming is almost a billion-dollar industry in our state — all of it untaxed. Revenue sharing with the tribes could represent a potential new source of income for the state worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

But in the end, revenue sharing is just a bad idea.

If the governor had approved the Spokanes’ compact as initially proposed, Pandora’s Box would have been thrown wide open. All other tribes would immediately insist on the same deal — including more allotted slot machines and the ability the operate casinos off their reservations.

There are currently around 17,000 slot machines in operation on tribal lands in our state. Can you imagine if all 28 tribes were suddenly allowed to operate 7,500 machines each instead of the current allotment of 675? The effect would be the most unprecedented explosion of gambling in our state’s history — when the public already has said time and again that enough is enough.

Plus, it would be very difficult for the state to regulate the gambling activities of the tribes when it’s also their financial partner.

To imply, as recent press coverage has, that tribal contributions to the Democrats are in any way a payoff for the governor’s rejection of the 2005 compact, is at best a gross misreading of the events, and at worst a deliberate distortion of the facts. The tribes were a signature away from an opportunity to earn billions of dollars in additional revenue, but as Sen. Prentice confirms, there was widespread bipartisan consensus at the time that the state should not get itself hooked on revenue sharing, and that the final Spokane compact should ultimately limit the potential for further gambling expansion, while restricting casinos to reservation lands. And that is what Gov. Gregoire ultimately (if imperfectly) achieved.

I say imperfect, because I am one of the few who publicly urged the governor to reject the 2007 compact as well, although its concessions ultimately proved far less damaging or inexcusable than the press coverage initially suggested. In January of 2007 I called the revised compact a “suckers bet,” warning that…

State Republicans sense the enormous political opportunity this proposed compact gives them, and they don’t even have to resort to lies, hate-mongering and obfuscations to make their point. So hot is the WSRP on this issue that they even made it a primary focus of a recent conference call with journalists and (mostly) right-wing bloggers.

I was so disturbed by the proposed compact that I actually invited Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-Granger) onto 710-KIRO and gave the ranking Republican on the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee some prime airtime in which to trash the governor. In fact, I wrote and spoke out so forcefully against the the compact that Gov. Gregoire’s Chief of Staff Tom Fitzsimmons called me up to explain the terms, answer my questions, and correct some of my misunderstandings. The result…? Perhaps the most lucid and detailed exposition on the Spokane compact you will find anywhere online or in print, a must read for anybody who honestly cares about knowing what this compact does and does not do. My conclusion:

When it comes to the number of facilities and authorized machines, the Spokanes demanded the same sort of deal negotiated by the Colvilles. Given the Spokanes’ favored nation status, the state really couldn’t do anything about that. But this authorization would be totally worthless to the Spokanes without a larger universe of slot machines from which to lease, so while nothing requires the state to bump up the allocation from 675 to 900, there’s a certain irrefutable logic to doing so.

[…] What the state gets from this is an end to the Spokanes’ illegal operations, relatively uniform compact terms across all 28 tribes — and assuming all the tribes seek the same deal — about $2.6 million a year in additional funding for problem gambling treatment and prevention programs.

I still urged the governor to reject the deal because I felt the state held the stronger hand, and could have negotiated a similar compact that did not include concessions like cash-fed slot machines and higher betting limits, but in the context of what might have happened, these complaints constitute a minor quibble. It was the 2005 compact that would have been a “jackpot” for tribal gaming interests, not its rejection. And given the mess she inherited, Gov. Gregoire has done about the best she could in keeping a lid on further gambling expansion.

As Sen. Prentice concludes:

The governor fixed a broken situation she inherited. She wisely rejected the agreement reached between the Gambling Commission and the Spokanes and sent both parties back to the drawing board.

[…] Any questions now being raised about the governor’s leadership role — after two legislative sessions with nary a peep, and right before the gubernatorial election — are not motivated by policy. They’re motivated by politics.

And any suggestion that tribal interests are rewarding the governor for her rejection of the lucrative 2005 Spokane compact, simply runs counter to both logic, and the facts.


  1. 1

    John425 spews:

    Goldy-you and Sen Prentice are full of shit. There are twenty three (23) states that have Indian gaming. Of the 23 only ONE does not have revenue sharing. Care to guess which one, moron?

  2. 2


    Goldy, I’m finding it hard to bite my tongue here, so I’ll just say two things:

    1. Any time you find yourself in agreement with Margarite Prentice on an issue involving individual liberty, go back to the drawing board

    2. Your rationale against expanded gambling is based upon as much logic and evidence as Connelly’s fight against the death with dignity initiative

  3. 3


    John @1,

    And there are 45 states that have income taxes. So what’s your point?

    The state cannot get revenue sharing out of the tribes without giving up HUGE concessions, like those offered in the 2005 compact. It simply can’t.

    So, if you’re one of those who believe that a dramatic expansion of gambling is good for the state, then I can see your argument for revenue sharing. But three times over 15 years voters have overwhelmingly said otherwise, so you’re on the losing side of this argument.

  4. 4


    Lee @2,

    We agree to disagree on this issue. But the point here is not what role the state should play in expanding gambling, but what role the state did play…. specifically, whether the Tribes “hit the jackpot” when Gregoire rejected the 2005 compact.

    Quite clearly, they did not.

  5. 5

    John425 spews:

    Goldy: Surely all 22 other governors can’t be so corrupt as to accept “contributions” from the Indian casinos. Only one.

  6. 6

    YLB spews:

    Well done Goldy. The trolls have dragged in this “payoff” meme for a while now.

    It serves two purposes, throws mud on the incumbent Governor who will draw more contributions regardless and 2) exploits anti-Native American sentiment.

    Nice bunch, our trolls.

  7. 7

    My Goldy Itches spews:

    Any state that would make playing poker online a felony has its head firmly entrenched up its ass. I’m at a loss to understand how Margarita Prentice can live with herself.

  8. 8

    rhp6033 spews:

    I had the same objections to the state-run lottery back in the day – that using a portion of the funds to “fund education” was just a way to get the State thoroughly hooked on the revenue. Now there is no way to dinsengage, because doing so would result in painful budget cuts.

    The lottery was sold to us as being only a way to capture money which was going to illegal gambling anyway, so the state might was well control and have a piece of it. But gambling is subject to the law of diminishing returns, for most people. Play long enough, the thrill dissapates as you see your bankroll dissapearing. So this means the state has to advertise to get people to play, playing up the prospect of winning “easy money”. Kinda goes against the original purpose, huh? But that’s what happens when you become a partner to a gaming enterprise – you have a vested interest in the growth of the business.

    So what do the Republicans think about all this? Well, Tim Eyman thought that getting in bed with the non-Indian gaming interests was a good idea, as long as some proceeds went to property tax reduction (a lot less than what he claimed), and he got paid for pushing the measure. His anti-tax supporters are some of the same people who are such fervent backers of the militant anti-government Republicans.

  9. 9


    I completely agree that Gregoire’s motivations are being willfully distorted here, as well as the history of the pact. I’m just saying that the slippery slope argument being made by Prentice is absolutely wrong.

    It comes down to whether or not you think this detracts from your ability to make your overall point.

  10. 10


  11. 11

    ROTCODDAM spews:

    This isn’t being presented by the WSRP as a referendum on expanded tribal gaming.

    This is being distorted as a political ploy to claim corruption where none exists.

    What kind of moron would engage in a quid pro quo, trading political contributions in exchange for having their business revenues reduced twelve fold?????

    Certainly not the BIAW.

  12. 12

    ivan spews:


    Three things.

    1) Thank you for sticking up for the governor, who tried to make the best of a tough situation. Right wing racist trolls like John425 have nothing to run on but hate, and can be ignored or ridiculed.

    2) Gambling will expand despite your nanny-state efforts to curtail it. People (not including me) like to gamble. Live with it. The only question is how best to manage it, as the governor is trying to do.

    3) Margarita Prentice does not have an opponent. The poor sap who filed has been MIA on the campaign trail, and no doubt is embarrassed that he even considered this race. All you’re doing is making it worse for him and for yourself.

  13. 13

    I-Burn spews:

    I’m missing something here. I haven’t followed this at all closely, but a question that occurs to me:

    If The Governors actions damaged the tribal gambling interests, why have they, as a group, contributed so heavily to her personally, and to the the state Dem party?

  14. 14

    ROTCODDAM spews:

    If The Governors actions damaged the tribal gambling interests, why have they, as a group, contributed so heavily to her personally, and to the the state Dem party?

    From that perspective, lesser of two evils.
    Not all tribes and members want to see gambling vastly expanded in our state. But even those that do recognize that they’ll get better treatment at the hands of a Democratic government.

  15. 15

    Mr. Cynical spews:

    Top party donors

    Donations to the state Democratic Party between the December 2004 gubernatorial recount and end of the legal challenge in June 2005.

    Democratic Governors Association: $645,000
    Service Employees International Union: $418,000
    Washington Federation of State Employees (AFSCME): $250,000
    Sen. John Kerry Campaign for President: $250,000 $250,000
    Drive Political Fund (Teamsters): $150,000
    EMILY’s List: $75,000
    United Food and Commercial Workers: $62,000
    Association of Trial Lawyers of America: $50,000
    Washington Indian Gaming Association: $50,000
    The Washington State Labor Council/AFL-CIO: $50,000
    Washington Education Association: $25,000
    Source: state Public Disclosure Commission

  16. 16


    I-Burn @13,

    The tribes always contribute more to Dems than R’s, for the same reason labor does… the Dems better represent their interests. They contributed big in 2004, and they’re contributing big in 2008. It has nothing to do with the Spokane compact.

  17. 17

    proud leftist spews:

    Tribes across the country overwhelmingly support Democrats because Native Americans overwhelmingly are Democrats. That support is longstanding. Gregoire’s position concerning tribal gaming is not what triggered the campaign contributions. There is no causal connection between the contributions and gambling policy. Why do Native Americans tend to be Democrats? Because we are not racist thugs. We actually care about Native American issues. Goldy–kudos on an excellent post.

  18. 18

    ivan spews:

    What have Republicans ever done for the tribes that the tribes would support them?

    Republicans have bashed the tribes over fishing rights, timber and mineral rights, and civil rights for years in this state. Now the tribes have money from gambling and — surprise — are using that money to bash the shit out of Republicans.

    Why would the tribes NOT bash the Republicans? Reality bites when you’re a right-wing retard.

  19. 19

    demo kid spews:

    @15: Point being? Was Dino Rossi different because he was funded with rainbows and sunshine?

  20. 20

    Right Stuff spews:

    I think the biggest stick the state had was the ability to authorize non-tribal slots….

    That was the big concession. No private casino slots, monopoly for the tribes = big campaign cash for the government bought and paid for by the tribes.

    oh and I892?
    Take a guess at who bought and paid for the massive media campaign against it…..

    And this state has already jumped the shark in terms of gambling… for Pete’s sake the state advertises the lottery in the media…
    So any sanctimonious nonsense about “curbing” slots becuase it is bad for society is total bulls*&t.

    All the compact did was keep the tribes whole and the Democrats $$$$.

    But hey CG was on KOS complaigning about the unfair influence of special interest groups….
    Boo F’n Hoo Gov. you are the queen of special interests.

  21. 21

    Richard Pope spews:


    Thanks for your excellent background information and factual analysis. I was having quite a disconnect until now in understanding how we got from the prior situation (say back in 2004) to what we have now.

    In any event, I have never heard any Republicans or anyone else complain about the lack of revenue sharing until now. The debate in the 2005 to 2007 time frame was NOT over revenue sharing, but over whether there was too much expansion in tribal gaming.

    The Republicans were quite vociferous during this time frame that tribal gaming was expanding too much — especially with the initial 2005 Spokane proposed pact, and even with the finally scaled down version eventually adopted in 2007.

    However, there wasn’t a single bit of criticism during 2007 about the renegotiated Spokane gaming pact failing to provide the state with a cut of the gambling revenue. Not from Republicans or from anyone else.

    It certainly wasn’t any secret that the 2007 pact did not have revenue sharing — especially since the initial 2005 Spokane pact had very obvious revenue sharing provisions (the first pact in the state that would have done so). Also, it was pretty well known that most other states had revenue sharing tribal pacts.

    So the revenue sharing question was not a legitimate political issue back in 2007. Nor should it be a legitimate political issue today either.

  22. 24

    Joe spews:

    As a very proud member of one of washingtons largest tribes, I am doing all I can to reelect the governor. Rossi would be a disaster to all Native Americans. Gregoire has given us advantages over non-indians that we should have always had. But we are not satisfied. Only one tribe is allowed to sell gas without collecting the 36 cents a gallon gas tax. THAT WILL CHANGE! Only 2 tribes have been allowed to open casinos in locations not on Indian land. THAT WILL CHANGE! We will open casinos whereever we Damn well want.
    As sovereign nations will will DEMAND the right to do what we want, without permission from Whitey.

    Please Contribute:

  23. 25

    Mark1 spews:

    The truth comes out, and much like his jerk-off fantasy & obsession with Ditzy, I mean Darcy; becomes exposed, he cannot stand it. Your “spin” isn’t worth a shit this time there Goldstein. Nice try.

  24. 26

    Mark1 spews:


    You do not deserve a damn thing over anyone else there asshole. Try a real job, and stop leeching off my tax-dollars.

  25. 28

    correctnotright spews:

    Actually, SOME tribes contributed big to the republicans – and got partially screwed by Abramoff.
    Of course, the guy in charge of the republican Senate commitee on Indian affairs during that whole period was…..(drumroll please) ….the “maverick” John McCain.

  26. 29

    rhp6033 spews:

    Mark1 @ 26: Fine. The tribes will renounce your tax dollars. But first, you have to give them all their land back.

    Tell me how you feel about being a renter again. If you act real nice, they might actually let you renew your lease from year-to-year.

  27. 30

    Joe spews:

    rhp6033 @ 29:

    Tell me how YOU feel to be a renter again.

    Whether you are a conservative or a liberal, you are all going to be renting from us. In fact you’re going to be buying your gas as well as getting your water and electrical power from us. And that is just the beginning.

  28. 31

    Mark1 spews:

    @30 Joe;

    Yeah, right. That’d involve Indians working, and we both know that’s not going to happen for most of you. Nice fairy-tale there though, I was entertained.

  29. 32

    RJ spews:

    Georgia Trilogy – 1830’s affirmed States have no power over Indian Tribes… Morongo Tribal Bingo ( Beaumont CA.) affirmed Tribes Right class 2 and Class 3 Gaming. It also said if States have a class 2 gaming tribes could have the same. If States have legal Class 3 gaming States must negoiate class 3 compacts.

    Class II Gaming – WA-church bingo, WA- casino bingo, Tribal Bingo machines (Class II Slot machines by federal definition)

    Class III gaming – WA horse racing, WA-Lotto, WA- Pull Tabs, WA Scratchers,
    Tribal class 3 slot machines, tribal horse racing, etc.WA – card games, WA casinos

    WA Casinos – WA has created 200 legal casinos in bars,bowling alleys, restraunts etc. They
    are small stakes card games and games of chance.

    National Indian Gaming Act – The NIGA created compacts as a compromise to states who were opposed to Indian Bingo. When congress created the “Morongo Tribal Fix” they thought they were only regulationg Indian bingo halls and WA church Bingo events. Tribal Attorneys realized it created a compact that would open indian gaming to a $30 billion dollar industry in 2008.

    Treaty Negoiations – The Treaties allowed tribes to regulate there own gaming commissions as we have done for 10,000 years.

    Tribal Gaming Taxes – WA Lotto only pays 30% education tax for its Lotto and scratchers.. Tribal Gaming is TAXED 100%
    under NIGC

    WA Constitution – When WA became a state the enabling Legislation of congress to accept WA into statehood required the WA Constitution and enabling act Respect tribal treaties and WA has no right to regulate hunting, fishing, gaming, Indian Foster care, criminal law etc.

    If you look at the Seattle PI there is no reporting on treaty law, Georgia Trilogy, consultation with WA Gaming

    WA revenue Sharing Booze – WA collects $35 million in booze tax on the Yakama indian nation (YIN) the tribe requested revenue sharing to defray tribal costs of EMT’s, law enforcement, medical costs tribal members injured and killed in booze related accidents on the REZ. Considering the YIN Treaty requires a DRY reservation. WA refused to sop selling booze in the rez and refused to provide revenue sharing… Tribes pay impact fees for gov services from tribal gaming …WA does not pay revenue sharing on booze impacts!

    Robert J. Quinault Indian
    Seattle, WA

  30. 33

    DOB1937 spews:


    I believe! Hallelujah, I do believe! Your “snake eyes” blog has convinced me that the $200,000 from the Tulalips and the $50,000 the Swinomish contributed to the WSDCC had absolutely nothing to do with Gregoire’s handling of the gambling compact she struck with the Spokane tribe.

    Uh, maybe it had something to do with the new 25/75 formula fuel tax agreements her proxy, Liz Luce, over at the Dept. of Licensing has been signing since last December with WA tribes?

    Tell you what spewers of all stripes, why don’t you take a moment to put in a formal request to the DOL to see if they will provide you with any details of the 27 cents per gallon rebate the state gives to all tribes that have signed the new 25/75 agreements? Just ask for the amount of gallons pumped and the dollar amount of the rebate in May.

    Pick a tribe, any tribe. I recommend the Swinomish so you will have numbers to compare to mine. I have it on good authority from friends in the fuel industry that the Swinomish are pumping about 800,000 gallons of fuel per month. At 27 cents per gallon the state is providing them with a subsidy of $216,000 per month at their small gas station just off highway 20 outside Anacortes. Eight gas and four diesel nozzles.

    Do the math — $216,000 per month times 12 months is $2,592,000 per year! Maybe, just maybe that is why the Swinomish contributed $50,000 to the WSDCC which in turn passed it on to good old Chris?

    While you are waiting for your reply from the DOL (don’t hold your breath) I urge you to Google “Senate Bill Report SB 5272″ and also “RCW 82.36.450″.

    SB 5272 is a revision to the original statute the Democrats, at the specific request of the DOL, rammed through the legislature last year. Pay particular attention to paragraphs (4) and (5) in the RCW!

    Paragraph (5) removes the spotlight from the governor and paragraph (4) hides the magnitude of her tribal subsidy from the general public.

    Nah, her motives are pure and there was no anticipation of a payback in an election year!

    If you believe that I have a bridge at Deception Pass I’ll sell you.

  31. 34


    DOB @33,

    Thanks for the misdirection. But the issue here is still that the 2005 compact was the “jackpot”, not the 2007 compact, and the media got it exactly backwards.

  32. 35

    DOB1937 spews:

    Well Goldy, I say bullshit to your accusation of misdirection! This is your blog and you can define the issue whichever way you choose but I suggest the greater issue is Gregoire and the Democrats pandering to the tribes for political reasons.

    BTW, not sure what you mean by the 2007 compact. Are we on the same page? The 2007 agreements I refer to have nothing to do with casino gambling, they are about tribal fuel tax agreements. Totally separate issue and hidden from the public! If the media know anything about this the subsidy they are sure keeping it quiet.

    My guess is that not one in a thousand people in this state know anything about the subsidy. If they do have a clue they can’t track down the magnitude because it is considered PERSONAL to the tribes and thus hidden from the public.

    If I haven’t ticked you off too much I’d be happy to send you a .pdf file via email of the 2007 Tribal Fuel Tax Agreement Report which lays out the scheme — from the DOL’s point of view.