Washington Tribes Seek Econometric Adjustments for Gaming Machine Allocations

Washington Tribes Seek Econometric Adjustments for Gaming Machine Allocations

Video gaming machines are among the most profitable elements of most Tribal casinos, and the number of machines in a casino can significantly impact the profit potential for the Tribe. In Washington state, gaming Tribes are currently negotiating new compacts with the state government that would provide for growth in the number of authorized machines based on factors indicating market demand.

The number of gambling machines allowed in Tribal casinos in the state of Washington — currently about 28,000 — has been set over the years through negotiations. If the proposed deal is approved, the slot-style machines would multiply based on supply and demand — not bargaining. If approved by the state gaming commission, the Governor, and Tribal and federal officials, the new compacts would increase the statewide cap by 2,700 machines immediately.

The limit would go up by another 1,350 statewide if the Cowlitz Indian Tribe in southwest Washington moves forward with a planned casino. In any year that tribes come close to maxing out their new cap, the limit could rise again by another 1,350 statewide. The state gaming commission would review the market and verify there are fewer than 500 unused machines for lease before an increase would be enacted. Another increase of 1,350 machines could happen any year a new casino opens, such as the Cowlitz tribe’s facility.

The only limit on the number of increases over the years would be existing caps on what individual Tribes can own and lease, which would keep the statewide number of machines from ever going past 90,000. Other conditions could keep the number far smaller. Many small tribes in far-flung parts of the state aren’t likely to open a casino, and Tribal leaders say there isn’t enough demand for a major expansion. “I think it can only go so big anyway, and then the market is full,” said Mel Tonasket, Vice Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

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