Free Tukwila of casinos | Letter
September 18, 2011 · Updated 10:48 AM
Last February the Tukwila City Council passed Ordinance 2323, establishing Jan. 1, 2016 as the sunset date for casinos in Tukwila. Subsequent pressure from the pro-casino lobby caused some council members to vacillate on that decision. In August, public testimony by citizens prevented the council from rescinding 2323. The compromise, Advisory Measure No. 1, brings this issue to the voters in November, asking if they want to allow casinos in the city or to ban them.
A zoning ordinance has been toyed with, but the city attorney has advised against it. Currently, only the State Gambling Commission has such regulatory powers. Cities that permit mini-casinos, must allow them anywhere food and beverages are served. The city cannot grandfather existing casinos in, nor can they zone them to a particular area of town. Either the casinos must be allowed anywhere a restaurant can locate, or they must not be allowed at all.
If Advisory Measure No. 1 passes and the council upholds it, Tukwila could see a proliferation of casinos, including more on International Boulevard.
The non-native gambling lobby has submitted bills in the past three legislative sessions without success to allow cities to zone. Why? The powerful native gambling lobby opposes cities having regulatory power. It could result in more non-native casinos as competition. Legislators lack the political will to oppose the tribal gaming.
The Tukwila City Council is now considering another option; tax the existing five casinos 10 percent. A sixth establishment will result in a15 percent tax rate for casinos. More than six will will raise the rate to 20 percent. One citizen astutely remarked, “it’s a double-edged sword. The government soon comes to depend on that added revenue they receive from said taxes, to the point that it becomes a conflict of interest. The tax was levied to discourage an activity deemed undesirable by the community, yet the government is now in a position where the revenue stream they have created gives them incentive to promote the activity.”
Some believe a casino tax should be steep enough to discourage proliferation, yet it could viewed as excessively punitive and open the city to litigation by casinos. The city should not give a mixed message. Either we want casinos, or we don’t.
I believe the city government needs to extricate itself from dependence on a revenue stream so fraught with risk and undesirable entanglement. The group Citizens for a Casino-Free Tukwila has prepared the website, www.FreeTukwila.org, to give more information on this issue.