Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGLO 1976 No. 21 -
Attorney General Slade Gorton


Under RCW 9.46.113 law enforcement activities related to the enforcement of state gambling laws must be regarded as having the "first call" on municipal gambling tax revenues authorized by RCW 9.46.110.

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                                                                  March 19, 1976

Honorable Albert Bauer
State Representative, 49th District
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington 98504                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1976 No. 21

Dear Sir:

            By recent letter you have inquired as to the meaning of the word "primarily" as used in § 11, chapter 166, Laws of 1975, 1st Ex. Sess., now codified as RCW 9.46.113.  We respond to your inquiry in the manner set forth below.


            In accordance with RCW 9.46.110, any county, city-county, city, or town, acting through its legislative authority, is authorized to impose an excise tax upon legally authorized gambling activities occurring therein.  Although it has since been amended on two occasions, this statute originated as a part of the legislature's comprehensive 1973 act relating to gambling activities ‑ following up on the approval of an enabling constitutional amendment at the November, 1972, state general election.1/

             RCW 9.46.113, on the other hand, was enacted two years later, by § 11, chapter 166, Laws of 1975, 1st Ex. Sess.  This more recent statute, which makes reference to RCW 9.46.110, supra, reads as follows:

            "Any county, city or town which collects a tax on gambling activities authorized pursuant to RCW 9.46.110 shall use the revenue from such taxprimarily for the  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] purpose of enforcement of the provisions of this chapter by the county, city or town law enforcement agency." (Emphasis supplied.)

            Because the word "primarily," as used in this statute, has not otherwise been defined by the legislature the proper technique to be used in determining the meaning of this term, in accordance with established principles of statutory construction, is to resort to the common, ordinary meaning of the word.  Accord, Pacific Etc. Alloys v. State, 49 Wn.2d 702, 306 P.2d 197 (1957), and cases cited therein.  Thus, in order to answer your question we turn to the dictionaries where we find the following:

            "Primarily. . .:  First of all . . . in the first place . . ."  (Webster's Third New International Dictionary, page 1800.)

            "Primarily. . . 'Essentially; mostly; chiefly; principally; . . . in the first instance; . . .'" (Random House Dictionary of the English Language, page 1142.)

            Giving effect to these dictionary definitions of the word "primarily," we would, first, contrast it with the word "exclusively."  Had the latter term been used by the legislature then, obviously, the tax revenues with which you are concerned couldonly be used for the enforcement of the state gambling law by a county, city or town imposing a tax on gambling activities under RCW 9.46.110,supra.  This approach, however, was apparently (and wisely so, we would think) looked upon by the legislature as being budgetarily impractical.  Assuming, for example, that the subject tax proceeds were budgeted for municipal police department operations, how could a line effectively be drawn between those police activities directly involved in the enforcement of the gambling laws and those possibly even concurrent activities of the same police officers in connection with other law enforcement assignments?

            Therefore, instead, the legislature chose the word "primarily" in order, we would surmise, to allow a reasonable degree of administrative flexibility in the budgetary process.  By choosing that word, however, the legislature, nevertheless, retained a requirement that any revenues derived by a municipality from its taxation of authorized  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] gambling activities be used first, chiefly, and for the most part, to fund law enforcement activities specifically related to the state gambling laws.

            Because the legislature took this course, a county, city or town willnot be in violation of RCW 9.46.113, supra, if some small portion of the total revenues derived from the taxation of gambling activities within its boundaries is used for other law enforcement activities ‑ or, conceivably, even for nonlaw enforcement operations.  But such a municipality will, nevertheless, have to adopt and follow whatever budgetary procedures are required in order to assure that most of the revenues in question are used for the specific purpose of enforcing the state gambling laws.  In short, this particular law enforcement activity must be regarded as having the "first call" on the subject revenues and thus a county, city or town imposing a tax upon the gambling activities must so process and budget those revenues as to assure that result.2/

             We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/See, respectively, chapter 218, Laws of 1973, 1st Ex. Sess., and Article II, § 24 (Amendment 56) of the state constitution.   RCW 9.46.110,supra, originated as § 11 of the 1973 legislative act.

2/So far as we can determine there are no statutes presently in effect which purport to spell out how this is to be done.   The state auditor, however, does have the authority under RCW 43.09.200 to

            ". . . formulate, prescribe, and install a system of accounting and reporting, which shall be uniform for every public institution, and every public office, and every public account of the same class."

            Therefore, while it is thus not within the province of this office to determine what particular budgeting and accounting procedures will most effectively achieve the above result, we would strongly suggest that any municipality imposing such a tax seek the assistance of the state auditor in installing appropriate procedures in accordance with that statute.