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GUEST VIEW

Daines and Tester shouldn’t roll the dice on federalism

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Drew Johnson, senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research

Drew Johnson

A coalition of 21 faith, family and federalism-minded organizations recently sent a coalition letter to Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines, and their U.S. Senate colleagues. The letter urged them to ensure Congress doesn't infringe on Montana’s rights to manage its own casino gambling affairs.

The coalition's alarm stems from H.R. 1619, The Anywhere, Any Place Casino Act — a bill that the House of Representatives recently passed. It aims to create an off-reservation casino within a state that doesn't want to house it.

The letter's signatories aren't as worried about this particular casino as they are about the precedent this legislation sets. It opens the door to creating an anywhere, any place casino gambling policy that could allow casinos to operate in neighborhoods throughout the country, even though they’re unapproved — and opposed — by states, localities and the courts.

Every Montanan, including those who support casino gaming, should share their concerns.

Montana has always taken a nuanced approach to gambling. Along with authorizing the dice game "cee-lo" in 2019, along with the "Heads or Tails" coin-tossing game for fundraising purposes, the state has also blocked bills to legalize blackjack and other measures that would have expanded gambling. Making these decisions is our right as a state; overzealous members of Congress shouldn't make them for us.

Unfortunately, however, if the Senate passes The Anywhere, Any Place Casino Act, that could become par for the course. Any developer with a bit of money and political capital could follow this bill's blueprint and have Congress foist casinos upon communities in Montana — even when we disapprove of the plans.

Even in cases of tribal gambling, states still have input over the placement of casinos. While the Department of the Interior has a say when the interests of another sovereign government are in play, courts still provide states an avenue to ensure that their rights are protected. That will no longer be the case if this troubling scheme becomes the law of the land. The bill will replace all checks and balances in the casino development process with bully tactics from Congress.

I support gambling and hope gaming options in Montana continue to expand. But I don’t support the attack on the Tenth Amendment represented by this legislation. The Anywhere, Any Place Casino Act empowers Congress to disregard states’ rights and determine where new casinos should go, with little or no input from state or local leaders.

Montanans are already facing enough threats to our sovereignty from the federal government as it is — from the federal vaccine mandate that state Attorney General Austin Knudsen is currently fighting, to overreaching federal gun laws that the state Legislature challenged with legislation, to a so-called congressional “election reform” bill that will undercut the Montana state Legislature’s efforts to ensure election integrity. Federal encroachments like The Anywhere Any Place Casino Act should concern all Montanans because over the years, it’s become clear that once politicians and bureaucrats successfully take away state control of one area, it becomes much easier for them to do the same elsewhere.

Up until this point, Montanans have been fortunate to have a delegation comprised of Democrats and Republicans who fight back when federal politicians attempt to trample states’ rights. Let's hope our representatives continue to protect our interests by pushing back against The Anywhere, Any Place Casino Act and all other future encroachments on our decision-making authority. They can’t afford to roll the dice on federalism — not today, not tomorrow, not ever.

Drew Johnson is a Madison County resident who serves as a policy analyst and government watchdog at several national free market think tanks. 

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