Politics & Government

Gambling board approves deal for more machines at tribal casinos

The state board that regulates gambling in Washington cleared the way Friday for more slot-style machines at tribal casinos.

The tribal compacts approved in an 8-1 vote by the state Gambling Commission would let tribes collectively have 2,700 more machines right away and then let market conditions dictate whether they eventually can have thousands more.

“All it does is allow for incremental growth that’s not going to happen really any time soon,” said Rion Ramirez, general counsel for the Suquamish Tribe’s commercial enterprises.

Gov. Jay Inslee, whose office participated in negotiations that produced the compacts, is expected to sign them. They need final approval from the U.S. Interior Department.

The deals are between the state and 27 tribes. The state’s other two federally recognized tribes, the Muckleshoot and the Puyallup, will be able to seek similar treatment.

Tribal casinos are allowed to have games that work similar to a lottery but look like slot machines. The number of machines in Washington casinos has approached a statewide limit of roughly 28,000.

In the past when tribes have wanted to raise the limit, they have had to go to the bargaining table with the state. Under the proposed compacts, though, the cap would increase automatically when it is close to being maxed out. It would also increase when a new casino opens.

The compacts would bring the Gambling Commission an extra $500,000 a year in tribal fees to cover its regulatory costs.

The lone vote against the compacts came from Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, who wants tribes to agree to share some of their $2.2 billion in gambling profits with state government.

Voting “yes” were the five Gambling Commission members — Chris Stearns, Bud Sizemore, Kelsey Gray, Julia Patterson and Ed Troyer — and three of four lawmakers, Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, and Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger.

Troyer, who works for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, said tribes will end up back at the negotiating table to seek access to newer technology.

“It will happen, because it’s changing worldwide,” Troyer said.