Court orders dismissal of Indian gaming suit
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Arizona's Indian tribes won a vote of confidence on Thursday with a federal appeals court decision affirming their right to negotiate casino agreements free from outside interference.

Although the decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was divided, it set the stage for compact approval regardless of action at the polls this November. Voters are being asked to approve one of three competing Indian and non-Indian gaming measures.

But the real victory came with the court's dismissal of a challenge to the existing casino deals. The racetrack industry, which has launched a legal and public relations campaign against the tribes,, contended the compacts were illegal.

A federal judge last July agreed, sending shockwaves through the state. Gov. Jane Dee Hull defended her actions, vowed not to shut down any casinos and pledged to work with tribes to ensure future deals were acceptable.

State lawmakers, however, never passed a measure to authorize Indian gaming. Tribes then took matters into their own hands and drafted two ballot measures to put before the voters, spending millions of dollars in the process.

Yesterday's ruling doesn't change any of that. In a 2-1 decision, Circuit Judge William C. Canby, an Indian law expert, said the case should have never been heard.

"The tribes with gaming compacts," he wrote in the 25-page opinion, "are necessary and indispensable parties to this litigation. The district court abused its discretion in ruling to the contrary."

Judge William O. Bertelsman disagreed with the majority. In a short dissent, he said he agreed with the lower court's reasoning.

"I would hold that the compacting tribes are not necessary (thus not indispensable) parties," he wrote.

Indian gaming throughout the country has faced legal challenges as non-Indian interests seek to gain a foothold in the $12.7 billion industry. A number of suits, including those in California and New Mexico, have forced state lawmakers to approve all gaming deals.

California tribes subsequently set a standard for Indian Country to follow when voters overwhelmingly approved a gaming initiative. A federal judge recently dismissed a lawsuit against the process.

Arizona's tribes have introduced two measures. Proposition 202 is supported by the 17 tribes of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association and mimics compacts Hull signed.

Proposition 200 is the work of the Colorado River Tribes, which did not sign the compacts. Proposition 201 is an offering if the race track industry to allow video gaming at race tracks.

Get the Decision:
AM. GREYHOUND RACING, INC. v. HULL, No. 01-16672/17319/17321 (9th Cir. September 19, 2002)

Arizona Gaming Proposals (As submitted):
Proposition 200: Yes for Arizona! | Proposition 201: Coalition for Arizona | Arizonans for Fair Gaming & Indian Self-Reliance

Relevant Links:
Arizona Department of Gaming -
Arizona Casinos, The Arizona Republic -

Related Stories:
Indian gaming proposals seek votes (8/13)
Ariz. tribes sue over voter ballot (7/17)
Tribes dispute gaming study results (6/27)
Ariz. governor opposes tribal ballot (6/4)
Ariz. gaming compacts killed (5/23)