National Lottery Offers Potential Bonanza for Idaho Indian Tribe
WORLEY, Idaho (AP) _ More than a century ago, an Indian tribe named the Coeur d’Alenes gave up lucrative mining land to the U.S. government for $150,000.
It’s going to be a lot harder to separate the tribe from what could be a far more profitable asset _ the first national lottery.
Since tribal officials announced plans for the lottery Monday, several states have threatened legal action. They claim, among other things, that federal law requires Indian gaming to take place on Indian lands.
But the threats aren’t deterring the northern Idaho tribe, whose shrewd trading skills once impressed 19th-century French fur traders. Tribal leaders are moving ahead with building a two-story office for the lottery, and they plan to hold the first drawing in late summer.
``We’ve cleared every legal hurdle,″ Dave Matheson, the tribe’s gaming manager, said Wednesday. ``We think there’s a lot of saber-rattling going on by people trying to scare away competition. That’s the real motive.″
The lottery raises the stakes in the growing Indian gambling industry, which has brought millions of much-needed dollars to reservations from Connecticut to California.
The Coeur d’Alenes hope it will mean one more step in an economic revival that began two years ago with the opening of a $2.7 million bingo hall.
The tribe’s plan calls for people in the 36 states where lotteries are legal, plus the District of Columbia, to be able to call a toll-free number and charge tickets to a credit card.
Tribal leaders hope the lottery will raise $400 million in the first three years and create 300 jobs. Unistar Gaming Corp. of Englewood, Colo., would organize the lottery and receive 30 percent of the profit.
The tribe says the game could eventually become larger than Powerball, the closest thing to a national lottery, which is played in 17 states and the District of Columbia.
Naturally, that worries Powerball officials.
``There are a whole series of very significant issues that have to be resolved,″ said George Andersen, a board member and past president of the Multi-State Lottery Association, which runs Powerball. ``I personally don’t think its going to come to fruition.″
Andersen said the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires the tribe to negotiate compacts with each state where lotteries are legal. Those compacts would themselves be illegal, Anderson said, because federal law requires tribes to own land in a state before negotiating such a pact.
But the tribe believes a 1992 gaming compact it reached with the state of Idaho allows the interstate sale of lottery tickets and waives federal communication and mail restrictions on gambling.
The Coeur d’Alenes (pronounced KOHR duh-LAYNZ), Idaho’s third-largest tribe, got their name from 19th-century French traders who admired their fine leather goods. The name is French for ``heart of an awl,″ a reference to a sharp tool used to punch holes in leather.
Today, about 700 Indians live on the reservation’s 345,000 acres of forest, mountains, lakes and farmland. Another 600 tribal members live off the reservation.
The tribe’s lands originally covered some 5 million acres and included parts of western Montana, eastern Washington and of the Idaho Panhandle’s lucrative Coeur d’Alene mining district. But the tribe ceded the mining district and most of its land to the United States for $150,000 in an 1891 treaty.
The tribe currently supports 335 jobs, including those at the bingo hall, a medical clinic and a 5,500-acre farm.
The bingo hall, which opened in March 1993, seats 1,200 people, includes 200 video machines and employs 73 full- and part-time workers. It made about a $2 million profit last year, Matheson said.
Unemployment on the reservation, which once reached 70 percent, has been reduced to about 33 percent. And the influx of money from gambling operations has strengthened the tribe’s social services and education system.
Tribal leaders expect those trends to continue with the lottery.
Orders would be taken by an automated phone system. Telephone workers would answer questions from people having difficulty with the system. They would earn starting wages of about $8 an hour, Matheson said.
``We’re talking about pretty good wages for being in the middle of nowhere in Idaho for unskilled work,″ he said.
Zeno Garcia recently left his job at the Coeur d’Alene tribe’s bingo hall to work at a tribal-owned hardware store. Now he’s considering applying for a job with the lottery.
``I’ve always thought about moving to find better work,″ said the 29-year-old former Navy seaman, ``but now I think I might stay.″