Tribes cashing in
on Class 2 slots

Feb 28, 2006 3:25 AM

While the Department of Justice is busy scratching its head over the definition of Class II and Class III slot machines, tribes are playing by the current rules and cashing in.

Since the installation of 805 Class II electronic bingo machines last August, the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians’ Casino San Pablo has been grossing nearly $2 million a week, and the city of San Pablo is enjoying a cut.

The machines were installed as a last resort, after the California State Legislature put a halt to the tribe’s plans for a larger, Las Vegas-style casino that included a revenue sharing deal with the state. Now the state is out of the picture (and the additional tax revenue), and the city of San Pablo is expecting a $9 million share of the profits — over half of the city’s general fund budget.

According to The Contra Costa Times, San Pablo has consistently had one of the highest unemployment rates in the Bay Area. Now the city of 30,000 residents is paying off its debts and planning to build a new sports park and community center. Councilwoman Sharon Brown told the Times, "We’re happy, and we don’t have to share with anybody."

Once a simple card room that attracted 54,000 visitors a month, the tribe’s casino operation is now pulling in more than 155,000 visitors monthly. Tribal members are benefiting from the new cash flow, with per capita payments, guaranteed health coverage, paid day care and subsidized school tuition. (Ah, to be a member.)

The tribe is still seeking a gaming compact, and has promised the city even more revenue if a deal is struck with the state. But the tribe’s operation is on shaky ground. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D) is working, through a new bill, to strip the tribe of its gaming rights and force them to go back through the process. The bill has been approved by the Indian Affairs Committee and now awaits a vote from the Senate.

Idaho eyes
gaming overhaul

A group of Idaho lawmakers including Speaker Bruce Newcomb, Rep. Lawrence Denney, Pro Tem Senator Robert Geddes, Senator Bart Davis and Rep. John A. Stevenson has proposed a resolution asking the attorney general to examine the constitutionality of Idaho’s gaming laws, Indian Country Today reported.

Tribal gaming was legalized in Idaho four years ago with the passage of Proposition 1, which allowed video gaming machines in the state, and allowed for their expansion over the next ten years.

Now lawmakers are back stepping, claiming the machines are illegal because they are an electronic simulation of casino gambling. It seems the real reason, however, is that anti-gaming proponents who fear the tribes will expand their operations by purchasing lands outside the reservation are pressuring lawmakers. The tribes have denied any interest in doing this.

Leaders of Idaho-based tribes including the Coeur d’Alene and Nez Perce took offense to the resolution. Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman Chief Allan was quoted as saying, "This measure is a direct challenge to the ability of Indian tribes within the state of Idaho to conduct gaming operations on their own land and secure their own economic future in cooperation with our fellow citizens of Idaho."

Leaders were angry that the legislators made no attempt to first speak with the Idaho Indian Affairs Council, created in 1999 to review legislation and policies that impact the state and tribes, and to provide a forum for this very thing.

Minnesota challenges class 2

And in Minnesota, the legality of video bingo machines operated by the White Earth Band of Ojibwe came under question. The tribe has placed about 100 of the machines at bars and private clubs in communities including Mahnomen, Calloway and Ogema.

State and federal gaming officials met with the tribe last week to discuss the issue. The tribe maintains that the machines are approved by the NIGC and that they are in compliance with IGRA.

Complicating the issue is the federal definition of a reservation, and the privately owned land that lies within a reservation’s original boundaries. For White Earth, this includes all of Mahnomen County and portions of two other counties. It is within their rights to offer Class II games at privately owned establishments in these areas.