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Live from Global Gaming Expo: Day 1


Updates from the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas!

Class II and Class III gaming were the big topics during the tribal government track at G2E on Tuesday. On one panel, the National Indian Gaming Commission's Class II rules came under fire. Later, panelists discussed whether the Class III compacting process works.

Seeking Clarity: What Exactly Is Class II Gaming?
Attendees who came to the panel expecting clear answers found none, as moderator Judy Shapiro, a Washington lawyer, stated right away. But they did find a lot of "doom and gloom" -- as a tribal lawyer said later in the day.

Teri Poust, a member of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama and a former NIGC official, said the proposed Class II rules will hurt tribes in states where the governor has refused to negotiate a compact. "Most of the games that are out there right now are not really compliant with what the NIGC is proposing," Poust, an attorney said.

Poust said her tribe will be forced to close one of its facilities and lay off employees. Brian Foster, the chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, went further: "1.4 billion in Oklahoma gone with the stroke of the pen."

Knute Knudson, an executive with International Game Technology, a gaming manufacturer, predicted an equally dramatic effect on the non-Indian side of the industry. "It may put a lot of vendors out of the Class II business," he said.

But NIGC Chairman Phil Hogen defended the need to create a bright line distinction between Class II games like bingo and Class III games like slot machines. Of the 50,000 machines in play in states like Oklahoma and Alabama, he said "I don't think we can say with a straight face that they are all Class II devices."

Hogen acknowledged that the agency will face a lot of lawsuits if the rules are put in place. "I think that's a good thing," he said. "This has been a very resilient industry and I expect that to continue."

The Compacting Process: Does It Really Work?
If the Class II market shrinks, tribes will have to rely on Class III gaming, which requires a compact with the state. But Jim Shore, an attorney for the Seminole Tribe, said that's not been the case in Florida.

"If we've been going at it for 16 years, then something is wrong here," he said, recounting failed talks with two former governors, who told the tribe that Florida isn't a gaming state.

When voters finally legalized slot machines in 2004, the tribe was hopeful. But the tribe isn't any closer to a Class III agreement, even though two non-Indian slot facilities will be open by the end of the week.

Shore was optimistic that incoming governor Charlie Crist, a Republican, will finally agree to a compact sometime in 2007. If not, the Interior Department is prepared to issue Class III procedures for the tribe that would allow the use of slot machines.

In contrast, Vince Duro, the vice chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, said the compacting process indeed works. Nearly half of the tribes in California have entered into agreements to operate Class III facilities.

But Duro said he was "troubled" by recent developments in the state. He said new compacts his tribe and others recently negotiated "have become pawns in a political struggle between the governor and the Legislature."

The compacts would allow the tribes to expand their casinos but Democratic lawmakers blocked them after heavy lobbying from labor unions. That prompted the San Manuel Band and five other wealthy tribes to form a political committee that spent more than $3 million on the recent election.

Paula Hart, of the Office of Indian Gaming Management at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, offered a historical perspective on compacts. For the most part, she said tribes would consider the process a success, but that states appear to be upset with their inability to impose more demands on tribes.

G2E resumes today and ends on Thursday. Here's what else is in store during the conference:
Wednesday, November 15
• Beyond Gaming: Economic Opportunities in Indian Country - Panelists like Deron Marquez, the former chairman of the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians, will discuss how gaming has led to the growth of other Indian businesses and industries.
• Off-Reservation Gaming: The Straw that Breaks the Camel's Back? - Another hot topic but one that died on the House floor this week when a bill to restrict off-reservation casinos was killed. Paul G. Moorehead, a former Senate Indian Affairs Committee staffer, will moderate.
• Get Out the Vote: Mid-Term Elections and Their Impact on Indian Gaming - A timely panel on how the Democratic takeover of Congress will affect tribal issues in the 110th Congress. Mark Van Norman, the executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association is the moderator.
• Regulatory Review: NIGC Update - Phil Hogen and Chuck Choney of the NIGC and Tracy Burris and Liz Homer will discuss the agency's agenda for 2007.

Thursday, November 15
• Media Matters: Indian Gaming & The Press - Join Victor Rocha, the proprietor of Pechanga.net and Mark Trahant, the editorial page editor for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, for a discussion on how Indian gaming is tretaed in the press.
• Future of Indian Gaming: Will D.C. Stop the Growth? - Another timely panel on legislative efforts in Congress that could restrict Indian gaming. Panelists include Virgil Moorehead, the chairman of the Big Lagoon Rancheria, a small California whose efforts to open an off-reservation casino have been thwarted, and Jacob Coin, who works for the San Manuel Band, which opposes off-reservation gaming. • Also, Ernie Stevens, the chairman of the National Indian gaming Association, is scheduled to deliver the day's keynote address.

Conference Program:
Global Gaming Expo

Relevant Links:
Global Gaming Expo - http://www.globalgamingexpo.com
National Indian Gaming Commission - http://www.nigc.gov
National Indian Gaming Association - http://www.indiangaming.org