I-892 is bad for taxpayers and tribes

Essay At A Glance

Washington’s Native American tribes, many who are bettering their communities and cleaning up their reservations, face a new, grave threat.

Initiative 892, which will tragically be on the November ballot this fall, represents the most massive expansion of gambling in Washington State history, offering a mirage of property tax savings.

But the 18,255 new slot machines I-892 permits won’t be confined to tribal reservations. They’ll be proliferating into neighborhood bars, bowling alleys, and restaurants.

The profits from these machines will be used to line the pockets of gambling conglomerates like Great Canadian Gaming of Canada, which has sunk at $160,000 in donations and loans into the initiative, and Michaels Associates of Nevada, another large contributor.

Eyman and his friends in the for-profit, illicit gambling industry argue that the for-profit-casino industry should be allowed to compete with tribes. But the rhetoric of their “Just Treat Us the Same” campaign rings hollow.

Because tribes are sovereign nations, 100% of their revenue is already taxed. Tim Eyman’s claim that “tribes don’t pay taxes” is ludicrous because tribes are their own nations. They were, after all, here first.

In any case, tribal casinos pay state and federal payroll taxes, including Social Security taxes, workers’ compensation taxes and unemployment taxes. They also collect sales taxes.

Tribes use the proceeds from their electronic slot machines and casinos for tribal economic development, scholarships, and heritage preservation, among other things.

Since tribes have become self-sufficient, they have also saved taxpayers millions of dollars by providing services to their people that were formerly provided by counties and the state.

Tribes that fall on hard financial times can lose members and watch their landholdings fall into disrepair. Casinos (which provide jobs in the hospitality sector) have helped Native Americans become more economically self-reliant.

The gambling industry, on the other hand, pockets all the profits it receives from electronic slot machines and casinos, or uses the money to fund even more expansion.

And unlike Native American tribes, whose casinos are confined to reservations, the for-profit gambling industry can target a neighborhood for expansion and dump thousands of electronic slot machines there.

Initiative 892 allows slot machines not only in casinos, but also in neighborhood bars, bowling alleys, and restaurants.

That’s a far cry from the current situation. Almost all electronic slot machines currently operated in Washington State are in tribal casinos.

Eyman’s “Just Treat Us the Same” argument will make even less sense if I-892 becomes law and tribal gaming centers close.

For when some of the tribal casinos go out of business — how will Native Americans recover the lost revenue they used to keep themselves economically self-reliant?

Or will our taxes have to go up to compensate them directly for the loss of the casino revenues and/or indirectly for the socioeconomic costs of the lost revenue and jobs?

Therefore, one of the overreaching problems that Initiative 892’s backers must address at some point is finding the best answer to this question: How do we as a state compensate this generation of Native Americans for being victims of crimes long ago that transcend generations while not punishing this generation of non-Native Americans for a crime they did not commit nor could have prevented?

To jeopardize the current source of revenue for Native American renewal and empowerment, at the same time they initiate attempts to economically diversify to get off of gambling as a primary source of revenue makes no sense.

In closing, just as General George Armstrong Custer, a cavalry officer at Gettysburg, was sent into his last battle at Little Big Horn as part of the effort to enforce the Manifest Destiny for duplicitous businessmen, so a modern day battle dawns.

But this is a political battle, not a military battle, instigated by a fellow by the name of Tim Eyman, who shares Custer’s cocky, brash, flamboyant and egotistical personality. Eyman is leading a charge against our tribes on behalf of duplicitous businessmen right now.

Washingtonians should take note that Custer may have lost the battle of Little Big Horn, but the Native Americans began a hundred-plus era of impoverishment, for the war continued.

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