Idaho tribes win right to push gaming
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The Idaho Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to take an Indian gaming initiative sponsored by the state's tribes off the upcoming ballot.

In a major blow to Republicans who earlier this year launched what Indian advocates and the media have called "tribal bashing," the court said there was no "controversy" to decide because voters have yet to go to the polls. The decision was unanimous.

"The initiative is not a law, but a proposal that may or may not become law according to the outcome of the election," Chief Justice Linda Copple Trout wrote in the 10-page opinion.

The grand slam clears away legal obstacles for the Nez Perce, Coeur d'Alene and Shoshone-Bannock tribes who want to offer expanded gaming on their reservations. The tribes collected nearly 50,000 signatures and spent upwards of $1 million for Proposition One, which authorizes the use of casino machines and shares profits with the state.

A coalition of Republicans, business leaders and charity groups opposed the initiative and said it was illegal even before voters got a chance to have their say this November. The attempt to short-circuit the ballot process was decried by the court.

"Proposition One may not pass," Trout wrote. "Any injury suffered [by the plaintiffs] is speculative."

Justice Wayne L. Kidwell went a step further and said there were "broad public policy" reasons to allow the tribes to proceed. He wanted the state law that allowed the coalition to bring its case declared unconstitutional.

"This court should not interfere with the initiative process," he wrote, expressing a view advanced by the tribes.

The tribes already offer 3,000 machines that are the subject of dispute. The state contends the devices are Class III and prohibited under existing compacts.

The initiative legalizes the machines and allows for their numbers to increase by 25 percent over the next decade. It also calls for the tribes to share 5 percent of the machine profits with the state.

Should voters agree to Proposition One, it could still be challenged. A similar tribal initiative in California survived an attack in court.

Yesterday's ruling comes on the heels of the state's defeat in another Indian-related case. The same lawmakers who fought the gaming initiative passed a law to retroactively tax the sale of gasoline on reservations.

The plaintiffs were Laird Noh, Maxine T. Bell, and Paul Christensen, all Republican lawmakers; Pamela Eaton, executive director of the Idaho Retailers Association; and Bryan Fischer, a conservative Christian activist.

Get the Case:
Noh et. al. v . Cenarrusa et. al. (8/28) [Note: Click on blue box to read full opinion]

Relevant Documents:
Text of Indian Gaming Initiative (Idaho Secretary of State)

Relevant Links:
Coeur d'Alene Tribe -
Nez Perce Tribe -
Shoshone-Bannock Nation -

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