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Tuesday, June 15, 2004 - Page updated at 12:13 A.M.

Tribes should ante up for addicted gamblers

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In light of the state Legislature's feckless support for problem gamblers, the willingness of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe to donate $350,000 for treatment is nice. Not overwhelming, but welcome.

Try to find a parking space at the tribe's casino near Auburn on a Saturday afternoon. The place is packed. Indeed, the casino is busy enough the tribe is investing $20 million in a 2,700-space parking garage.

Let's see, $350,000 is about 1.75 percent of the cost of a garage that will pay handsome dividends. Don't call them parking stalls, they are parking slots.

Here we are, picking on the Muckleshoots and all they did was offer money. Well, lots of money is floating around.

Last year, all forms of gambling in Washington — from the ponies to bingo and raffles — netted about $1.3 billion after winners were paid. The state estimates the tribes' share at 54 percent.

Another number in circulation is 270,000 adult problem and pathological gamblers in the state. Add in another 44,000 teens already in trouble with gambling.

In 2002, the Legislature directed $500,000 from Lottery revenues to the state Department of Social and Health Services to organized treatment programs. Twenty-five trained providers were hired and they helped 225 clients in eight months of operation.

The Legislature, to its gutless shame, walked away and has only fussed and fumed since — no money or serious attempts to help.

Given that record, money from the Muckleshoots is helpful, but where is the motivation for DSHS to start another program only to have it collapse? Where is the incentive for professionals to invest time and individuals to invest hope in another half-hearted effort?

Last Wednesday, the state's tribal leaders met in Spokane, where the Muckleshoots announced their intentions. Other tribes should follow the example and make proportional contributions relative to the size of their gambling operations.

In a letter to Gov. Gary Locke, Muckleshoot Chairman John Daniels Jr. notes the State Gambling Commission is considering putting up $150,000. The two amounts combined get about halfway to nowhere without sustained support from the Legislature.

A truly shameful statewide initiative seeks to expand state-licensed gambling, allowing slot machines in bars, restaurants, taverns, cardrooms and bowling alleys. Oh perfect, expand gambling to cynically lower property taxes on the backs of problem gamblers. It's a nasty idea even if the initiative metes out a pittance for the addicted.

The state Legislature needs to accept its long-term responsibility and permanently fund help for problem gamblers. In the near term, Washington's tribal casinos should follow the Muckleshoots.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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