Federal government tells Alabama to ‘Butt out’

Mar 25, 2013 7:10 PM

Alabama’s attempt to control so-called “bingo” games in tribal casinos has resulted in strong language coming from the federal government.

In a letter to the state’s attorney general, Eric Shepard, the acting general counsel of the National Indian Gaming Commission, wrote that “Indian tribes are not bound by state definitions of the game of bingo when operating on Indian lands.”

The letter was in response to efforts by Attorney General Luther Strange to brand the “electronic bingo” games being operated in casinos owned by the Poarch Creek Indians as “slot machines.”

“I disagree,” said Attorney General Strange, “that federal law gives the Poarch Band the right to ignore state law in that way, and I expect that my lawsuit against the tribe will determine who is right.”

Strange has filed suit in state court hoping to have his position supported. This despite Shepard’s explanation that as long as a state permits bingo, regardless of its definition of bingo, a tribe may operate the game as defined by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Shepard insisted his commission, not the state, regulates games on Indian lands.

Poarch Band Attorney General Venus McGhee Prince followed up by saying the tribe has always been careful to follow the law and Shepard’s letter should “end any further discussion on this issue.”

Shephard’s letter was similar to one sent in 2011 to Gov. Robert Bentley regarding bingo machines.

The federal law’s definition of bingo, the letter said, may be more expansive than some state laws, and the federal law permits tribes to operate electronic versions of bingo that operate instantly and award cash prizes.

Ray Poirier is the longtime executive editor at GamingToday.

Contact Ray at [email protected].

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