Gambling in Flathead continues—for now 

The clink of coins will continue on the Flathead Indian Reservation—at least for a while.

Attorney General Joe Mazurek and Jamie Hamel, vice chairwoman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, announced last week that an interim state-tribal gaming compact will be extended until Nov. 7 while negotiations between the two parties continue.

The 1997 agreement, mandated under the 1988 federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), was set to expire May 8. Expiration would have meant another shutdown of all tribal and non-tribal gaming machines on the reservation. Two separate bans took place in the 1990s after the state and tribes could not reach consensus.

Under IGRA, tribes across the nation must enter into agreements with their respective states in order for Class III gaming, which includes video gaming machines, other casino-style games, pari-mutuel wagering and lotteries, to take place. The hotly disputed law, which was enacted at the request of Nevada and New Jersey gambling interests, has pitted tribes against states in a variety of venues. A main complaint is that sovereign tribal nations shouldn’t be required to enter into agreements that give states jurisdiction over reservation activities.

Hamel and Mazurek say several issues remain to be negotiated for a new Flathead compact. Tribal leaders are pushing for revised regulatory standards, more equitable revenue sharing, and an increase in the number of machines allowed in tribally controlled establishments.

Under the current agreement, the tribes have jurisdiction over Indian operators and their gaming operations, while the state exercises regulatory control over non-Indian gaming operators and their premises. Hamel says, however, that the state unfairly gleans more revenue from the 35 state-run gaming outlets on the reservation than the tribes do from the outlets they control.

“The tribes assert that ways must be found to correct that imbalance and assure that the tribes are the primary beneficiaries of gaming on the reservation,” Hamel says, adding that a primary purpose of the federal gambling law was to enable tribes to raise revenue for reservation infrastructure.

Under the state’s formula, 15 percent of gross gaming machine proceeds are extracted from non-Indian owners and operators. Two-thirds of the tax is given to local governments, while the rest is deposited in state coffers.

According to Rick Ask of the state’s Gambling Control Division, Lake County government’s cut of reservation gaming revenue was $90,733 in 1999. The city of Polson received $200,114 in the same period, and the city of Ronan got $143,298. If the regulated machines are within in city limits, the proceeds go to city coffers. If they are outside city limits, the money goes to the county. The tribes collect a percentage of net proceeds from all of the machines they control.

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