FROM THE ARCHIVE

Dispute over casino game rules lingers

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FRIDAY, JULY 12, 2002

Outgoing political appointees of the Clinton administration last week scrapped controversial casino game procedures, a move condemned by the nation's top Indian gaming regulator as potentially illegal.

National Indian Gaming Commission Chairman Montie R. Deer charged his colleagues with attempting to push their views on future administrations. In a short dissent, he said commissioners Liz Homer and Teresa Poust may have acted beyond their authority by requiring a tribal advisory board help create new rules to replace the ones they eliminated.

"I believe that the current Commission simply lacks the power to bind future Commissions to a particular rulemaking process," Deer wrote on July 3.

Homer, an appointee of former interior secretary Bruce Babbitt, left the NIGC two days later. Poust, another secretarial pick, is due to depart shortly.

Deer on the other hand is a presidential appointee whose term expired this past spring but will continue to serve, at President Bush's discretion, the administration until 2003. The White House has yet to name a replacement.

The move by the outgoing commissioners is significant because both are considered friendly to the $10 billion Indian gaming industry. Tribes and casino companies believe Homer and Poust have been liberal when it comes to casino game classification.

Deer, however, is seen as a strict enforcer who fought changes to casino game definitions that Homer and Poust pushed through last month over his objections. A lawsuit in Oklahoma involving three tribes and a casino company accuses him of ignoring his colleagues.

It's not that Deer opposed the tribal-friendly initiative sought by Homer and Poust. In his note, to be published in today's Federal Register, he said he supported greater involvement by Indian Country.

But the dissent marks the growing rift within NIGC on the controversial subject of casino games. The rules eliminated would have established a formal way to categorize casino machines as Class II, which includes bingo and bingo-like games, or Class III, the more lucrative segment that includes slot machines.

Tribes in Oklahoma, where Class III games are illegal, were among those who objected to the withdrawn rules. The Chickasaw, Choctaw and Cherokee nations are involved in a lawsuit that seeks to force the NIGC to settle a controversy over the MegaNanza game, manufactured by a Texas company with close ties to the tribes.

Shares of the company, Multimedia Games Inc. (NASDAQ: MGAM), have fallen 50 percent since NIGC said MegaNanza was illegal in Oklahoma.

Relevant Links:
National Indian Gaming Commission - http://www.nigc.gov

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