Another Indian Nation suesstate government over compact

November 28, 2000 1:17 AM
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Following the lead of Indian Nations in New Mexico, along with other states, the Northern Arapaho Tribe of west-central Wyoming filed a lawsuit against the state, charging Gov. Jim Geringer with failing to negotiate in good faith in allowing the band to establish high stakes gambling.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, is the first step in the tribe’s attempt to force the state to accept Indian gambling on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

"We’ve been trying to work this out with the governor since at least 1995, but now it’s clear he would rather stall us than respect our sovereign power to offer casino style gaming on our own reservation," said Arapaho Business Council Chairman Al Addison. "It’s time for Jim Geringer to live up to his oath and follow the law. He cannot be allowed to continue acting in such an unfair and unreasonable manner when it comes to Indian issues."

Geringer’s office referred all questions on the suit to Attorney General Gay Woodhouse, who said she would not comment on the lawsuit until her office had a chance to review the action.

Under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, tribes and states can negotiate over gambling on reservations. If the negotiations fail, the tribe can sue and a federal mediator is appointed to determine what kinds of gambling the tribe may offer.

If the state invokes its immunity rights and the lawsuit is dismissed, the tribe may ask the U.S. Department of Interior to intervene and allow the tribe to establish gambling operations.

Other states have been obliged to accept Indian gambling because they allow other lower stakes gambling. The Arapaho tribe argues that since Wyoming law permits antique slot machines, pari-mutuel betting, bingo, raffles, pull tabs and calcutta, the door is open for the tribe to offer modern, high-stakes casino games, such as slots, poker, blackjack, keno, roulette and dice games.

Under federal law, "if such activities are located in a state that permits such gaming for any purpose by any person, organization or entity," it must allow it on reservations.

"The Arapaho Council wanted to cooperate with Gov. Geringer," Addison said. "Now, because of his obstructionist position, the state will have no role in the development of our casino."

The tribe had proposed sharing some of its gambling profits with the state, according to the tribe, as is done in other states. But Geringer has been steadfast against the concept of expanded gambling in any form.

Burnett Whiteplume, chairman of the Northern Arapaho Gaming Commission, said despite the state’s stance, the tribe is "mindful of both law enforcement and social issues related to gaming" and will work with local governments in addressing their concerns.

Wind River is the nation’s third largest reservation, which is shared with the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, which is also interested in establishing gambling. It was founded by the Ft. Bridger Treaty of July 2, 1863. The unemployment rate at Wind River is currently 65 percent.

Louisiana

While New Mexico tribes continue a court fight to lower its nation-high 18 percent gaming "tax" to state government, Indian casinos in Louisiana may not need to pay a fee at all.

In a surprise federal ruling last Tuesday, Indian casinos appear to be on the verge of discontinuing the 6-percent tax that they’ve paid for years to parish (county) governments in their areas.

The latest turn of events is a major disappointment for Gov. Mike Foster, who just last year was pushing hard for the three Indian casinos in the state to pay the same 18.5 percent state tax that Louisiana riverboats currently pay on gross gambling revenue.

At the time, Foster argued that "if they (Indian casinos) are going to do business here, they ought to pay their share of keeping up the infrastructure."

But Foster Administration officials now state they’ll be lucky if they can persuade the U.S. Department of the Interior to continue to allow the three Louisiana Indian casinos to pay even the 6-percent parish tax.

The ruling came even though the Chitimacha Tribe, which owns Cypress Bayou Casino, was willing to continue to pay the 6-percent tax to the St. Mary Parish government, Martin said. The federal ruling could mean the loss of $1.5 million a year in payments.

In a letter to the Chitimachas and the Foster Administration, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Loretta Tull in the U.S. Department of Interior said any payments by Indian casinos to governments must be used to "offset and defray the expenses of those local governmental authorities resulting from" the casino activity.

Tull said she saw no evidence in the state’s new deal with the Chitimachas that the 6-percent payments would be used for any specific purpose directly related to the impact of the casino on local roads, sewers or other services.

According to State Police Lt. Guy Barnett, the Chitimachas ceased payments to St. Mary Parish when their seven-year compact with the tribe expired July 7. The tribe is still withholding payments.

New Mexico

Tribal leaders at Santa Clara Pueblo agreed to allow building inspector from the city of Espanola to review plans for its $10 million casino project, located in a city shopping center.

The city contended the land was under their tax base and jurisdiction, thus was subject to a building permit and needed to meet its fire code. However, the pueblo stated the boundaries were part of the its original Spanish land grant.

However, since the city would provide utilities and fire protection, and in the interest of public safety, tribal leaders consented to the overview, although they still claim Espanola possesses no legal authority to halt the project.

The 46,000-square-foot casino will also host a bowling center, with a possible hotel joining the development.

Oregon

Leaders of the Burns Paiute Tribe voiced pleasure with the conviction of a man for looting archaeological sites on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, but they also voiced concern that federal laws need to be tightened to prevent future acts.

"They get their hands slapped, and then they’re out there collecting again," said Minerva Soucie, an elder of the band.

William Dean Jaques, 53, of Burns, was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Eugene to serve six months in a work-release program and five years of federal probation. In addition, Judge Michael Hogan ordered Jaques not to hunt artifacts on public or private land, or enter the Malheur refuge for five years. He also was ordered to pay $803.86 in restitution to the refuge.

Federal agents arrested Jaques on May 10, 1999, after employees at Malheur observed and videotaped him digging for artifacts.

California

The Pechanga Entertainment Center in Temecula, midway between San Diego and Riverside off I-15, has cancelled its Dec. 2 appearance by Gallagher to give the construction crews more time to renovate its bingo hall into a new showroom for top-name entertainment.

The construction is expected to last through late January. Tickets purchases for any cancelled show can be refunded at the Pechanga Box Office, which will remain open during construction from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Meanwhile, Pechanga’s RV Resort is now open and fully functional. The site includes 170 full-service sites and 25 pull-through locations, all located on the southwest side of the casino.