Santee Sioux leaders found in contempt of cour
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JUNE 22, 2001

A federal appeals court on Thursday found several officials of the Santee Sioux Tribe in contempt for operating their tiny casino without the approval of the state of Nebraska and in defiance of federal law.

Reversing a district court decision on the issue, a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said Chairman Roger Trudell and other officials failed to comply with court orders to shut down the Ohiya Casino. In fact, said the court, the council voted to keep the facility open just one day after being ordered to close it.

"[T]he Council was made aware of the federal court order to cease class III gaming and shut down the Ohiya Casino, yet the Council voted to deny closure," wrote the court.

Tribal members had also passed a referendum requiring officials to keep the casino open. But the court said Trudell and the council couldn't "hide" behind the referendum because it contradicted federal law.

"The Council members cannot hide behind a spurious tribal referendum because the Tribe cannot pass such a referendum in contravention of federal law," the court continued. "[T]he record shows the Council had no intention of complying with the court order."

Former Chairman Arthur "Butch" Denny, championed in Indian Country for keeping the casino open, was absolved of duplicity since he is longer a member of the tribal council.

The appeals court ruling comes as the current administration wants to put an end to $6,000 daily fines which have resulted in the tribe owing $4.6 million to the federal government. Last month, the tribe replaced the Class III machines with pull-tab games and should no longer be fined, said Trudell.

In other states pull-tabs are considered Class II games. Federal prosecutors have yet to decide if the same holds true for the Santee, which could make yesterday's contempt ruling moot.

Meanwhile, the tribe's bank accounts continue to be frozen due to the defiance. The appeals court yesterday upheld freezing 22 accounts -- including money the tribe says is being held in trust. Furthermore, the appeals court is allowing another account to be frozen.

The frozen accounts have prevented the tribe from carrying out some of its programs, said a tribal administrator.

After three years of compact negotiations with Nebraska failed, the tribe opened the casino in northeastern Nebraska in February 1996, first offering slot, poker, and blackjack machines. Employing about 20 people, it has brought in estimated $1 million a year, revenues the tribe feels are much needed.

The state of Nebraska prohibits Vegas-style gaming. Attempts to change the state's constitution have failed.

Get the Decision:
US v. SANTEE SIOUX TRIBE OF NEBRASKA, No 00-1399, 00-1542 (8th Cir. June 21, 2001)

From Native America Calling:
Gambling on Good Faith (October 4, 1999)

Relevant Links:
The Santee Sioux Tribe -

Related Stories:
Santee Tribe owes $4.6 million (5/29)
Santee casino gets rid of slots (5/21)
Bill to restore Santee jurisdiction (3/1)
Neb. gaming amendment debated (2/6)
Support for Neb. gaming amendment sought (1/11)