Idaho tribe plans largest U.S. lottery

March 03, 1995|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- A Native American tribe from Idaho plans to announce next week the creation of potentially the largest lottery in the nation, setting the stage for a battle with states that fear their own lotteries will suffer.

The National Indian Lottery will be operated by the Coeur d'Alene tribe and Unistar Entertainment Inc., a Denver management firm.

The lottery will be available through an "800" telephone number in 36 states -- including Maryland, Delaware and Virginia -- and the District of Columbia. Callers will use credit or debit cards to buy chances at a jackpot that could grow into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

But states are gearing up for a fight over the new venture, predicting that it would cut heavily into their own revenues and create a regulatory nightmare.

"It's one thing for them to set up these games within their reservations," said Anthony S. Cooper of the North American Association of States and Provincial Lotteries. "But it's another thing for them to bring their gambling into people's homes. Every house with a telephone will [in effect] have a lottery terminal."

Bob Bostwick, a spokesman for the tribe, said the lottery has won the approval of the National Indian Gaming Commission -- the agency that implements the 1988 federal law that gives Indians the right to gamble on their land. The tribe believes the law enables it to offer the lottery in any state that now runs one -- 36 in all.

The jackpot will jump quickly into the hundreds of millions of dollars, gaming industry experts say, because the Indians will have a far greater reach than any existing lottery. With 36 states and the District of Columbia participating, the Coeur d'Alene will have more than 200 million people to draw on.

The only existing lottery whose reach comes close is the Powerball -- a joint venture between the District of Columbia and 19 states, whose jackpot yesterday was up to $100 million.

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