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TRIBAL GROUP DROPS PUSH FOR RESERVATION CASINOS

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Just three weeks after it started, the Alliance of Idaho Tribes is dropping an initiative effort to legalize casino gambling on Indian reservations.

The Indians would have needed 32,061 signatures by the deadline July 8, and tribal leaders acknowledged the impossibility of that task, Indian newspaper editor Donna Matheson said recently."It just looked like there was no possible way to get the 32,000 signatures by that time," she said.

But Indians hope to conduct the same initiative drive in time for the 1996 election, she said, and will continue to press for expanded gaming operations on reservations despite a constitutional amendment against it and opposition from state leaders.

In the meantime, Indian leaders hope to press state leaders to make good on a 2-year-old promise to aid economic development on reservations.

The Alliance of Idaho Tribes announced the petition drive May 19, calling it a way to help economic development and self-sufficiency on reservations.

"We are tired of broken promises by the governor and state lawmakers," said Levi Holt, chairman of the alliance. "This petition is a way to let citizens decide what is best for the state and its people," he said at the time.

Matheson, editor of the Council Fire newspaper, Plummer, said tribal gaming is the only economic development that has had much impact in helping depressed reservation economies.

She said reservations have tried for years to lure companies, ranging from corporations as big as Boeing to small business, with no success.

Gaming operations are the only thing that can provide an economic lift to reservations, Matheson said.

She said the Coeur d'Alene tribe has been able to funnel profits from its bingo games into education, health care and social services.

Matheson said Coeur d'Alene tribal leader Ernie Stensgar has asked to meet with Gov. Cecil Andrus to make sure that a gaming compact negotiated between the state and tribe will allow electronic pull-tab games.

During a 1992 special session of the Idaho Legislature, legislative leaders promised to help economic development on Idaho's five Indian reservations.