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Supreme Court hears from states in gaming case
Thursday, January 29, 2004

A coalition of nine states has sided with the Bush administration in seeking U.S. Supreme Court review of an Indian gaming dispute with implications for tribes nationwide.

Led by California, the group takes aim at two circuit court rulings that favored tribal interests. In an 11-page amicus brief filed last week, the states say the decisions threaten regulation of the $14 billion Indian gaming industry.

Unless the matter is resolved, the states warn that "creative minds" could create "highly sophisticated" electronic devices that look like slot machines and play like slot machines. "From the player's point of view," the brief argues, "these so-called 'technologic aids' are indistinguishable in any meaningful sense from any other slot machine along the casino wall."

These devices upset the regulation of Indian gaming in several ways, the states say. One example cited is that tribes could offer the machines at casinos without having to negotiate a compact.

But even tribes with compacts are affected, the states say. Electronic devices would allow tribes to bypass restrictions that some compacts place on slot machines. In California, for example, each tribe is limited to 2,000 slot machines. At least two tribes have installed electronic casino machines.

The final threat the states cite is their own pocketbooks. Tribes could "avoid revenue sharing obligations" in existing compacts by replacing slot machines with electronic devices that states can't touch.

In California, where Indian casinos generate an estimated $4 billion every year, compacts and revenue-sharing are hot topics. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) wants tribes to share $500 million with the state. His gaming negotiator has already met with several tribes.

In Connecticut, whose Democratic attorney general Richard Blumenthal joined the brief, two tribes already share 25 percent of their slot machine revenues. Last year, they sent more than $400 million to the state.

Some of the other attorneys general that signed the brief hail from states that refuse to negotiate gaming compacts with tribes. Alabama, Nebraska and Texas are among this set.

Tribes in these three states are limited to bingo, pull-tabs and similar games. But one tribe in Nebraska, the Santee Sioux, is facing penalties for installing electronic machines. This dispute is the subject of the 8th Circuit Court decision the states and the Bush administration want the Supreme Court to review.

Rounding out the pack are Massachusetts, where no tribal gaming facilities exist, and Nevada, Minnesota and South Dakota. Taken together, the nine states are home to more than 150 tribes.

One state absent from the brief is Oklahoma. Two tribes there, the Seneca-Cayuga and the Fort Sill Apache, along with the Northern Arapaho of Wyoming, are the subject of the 10th Circuit Court decision that is also up for review. Gov. Brad Henry (D) has just proposed a bill legalize the "highly sophisticated" machines the nine states speak of in their brief.

The three tribes, along with an casino machine company, submitted their own brief last week. They urged the Supreme Court justices not to accept the appeal, arguing that it was moot because the pull-tab machine in question is no longer manufactured. But they also said the two decisions are of "doubtful significance."

Relevant Documents:
Petition: U.S. v. Santee Sioux Tribe | Petition: U.S. v. Seneca-Cayuga Tribe

Docket Sheets:
U.S. v. Santee Sioux Tribe | U.S. v. Seneca-Cayuga Tribe

Lower Court Decisions:
U.S. v. Santee Sioux Tribe (March 20, 2003) | Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma v. National Indian Gaming Commission (April 17, 2003)

Relevant Links:
The Santee Sioux Tribe -
National Indian Gaming Commission -

Related Stories:
Tribal leaders share views on threats to sovereignty (01/20)
Calif. tribes meet challenges to gaming rights (1/15)
Bush briefs sound alarm on Indian gaming regulation (11/25)
Supreme Court asked to rule on Indian gaming (09/30)
NIGC resolves status of company's casino machine (09/24)
Hogen says Okla. tribes skirting federal gaming law (05/19)
Appeals court says game is legal Class II (04/21)
Appeals court upholds Santee casino games (3/20)
Casino company loses Indian gaming suit (09/11)
Santee Sioux leaders found in contempt of court (6/22)

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