Now that they have overcome state opposition, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes hope to triple the size of their high-stakes bingo operation on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation next year.
Nathan Small, tribal bingo manager, said Sho-Ban officials plan to expand the six-month-old operation by building a bingo hall near the Trading Post Complex off Interstate 15 to serve some 700 players.The Fort Hall Business Council already has approved funding, but the project still must be approved by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. A public hearing also is scheduled Monday on a request for a special use permit from the tribal Land Use Commission.
"We had hoped we would be moved in or have the building up by February or March, but it might be longer," Small said.
The weekend games now are drawing an average to fill the proposed bingo hall and may eventually expand from weekend to daily sessions.
"I don't think we'll be able to run daily games yet. Maybe after we've been in the hall for a year and if there is a market for daily games, then we may expand," he said.
The tribes employ about 30 people to operate the games and last week hired a gaming accountant. Small said the Shoshone-Bannock might also link up with tribes in Montana and Washington to offer an interstate Indian lottery once the bingo hall is completed.
"Everything hinges on the new building," he said.
The U.S. Department of Interior confirmed an earlier decision last month that high stakes bingo, operated and regulated by Indian tribes, is legal in Idaho under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
That decision conflicted with the position of Gov. Cecil Andrus and Attorney General Jim Jones, who argued that because the state does not allow bingo-for-profit, Indian tribes could not operate such games. But after the Interior Department confirmation, Deputy Attorney General Clive Strong said the state will not contest the ruling.
"Although we do not agree with the decision, it is ultimately a question for them to settle," Strong said. "We do not intend to take any further action at this time."
And Andrus spokesman Marc Johnson said the state also will do nothing to interfere with establishment of an Indian lottery, such as the interstate plan mentioned by Small.
"They are entitled to do whatever is legal in the state of Idaho," Johnson said. "Obviously, the lottery is conducted in Idaho, and if that is their desire, they have every right under the law to proceed."