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Posts tagged: tribal gaming

Tribe plans emergency appeal, says court may have misunderstood about arbitration process

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe says it will immediately file a motion to stay Judge Lynn Winmill’s ruling today granting an injunction ordering the tribe to shut down the poker room at its Worley casino, and will file an emergency appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. “We still believe that we have valid legal arguments under federal law for offering poker at our casino and the court’s decision did not fully consider some of those arguments,” said tribal attorney Eric Van Orden.

Helo Hancock, tribal legislative affairs director, said the tribe didn’t decide against arbitration and didn’t want to litigate the issue. “It appears there may be a misunderstanding by the court,” he said. “Because our compact is clear that it is the aggrieved party that is supposed to file or provide notice of their intent to arbitrate. And we’re not the aggrieved party. We don’t think we’re doing anything wrong. We think we’re well within our rights. It was the state who sued us, and accordingly it would be the state’s responsibility as the aggrieved party to file notice of their intent to arbitrate. That really isn’t on the tribe.”

Hancock said that issue will be addressed in the motions the tribe will file today both with the U.S. District Court and the 9th Circuit. “They’re being drafted now,” he said. Casino officials are awaiting advice from counsel on whether the poker room will stay open or not as the emergency appeal is filed.

Chief Allan, tribal chairman, said, “Obviously, we’re very disappointed in Judge Winmill’s decision. Poker is so widely played across the state by so many different people and organizations that it sounds ridiculous to say that everyone playing poker in the State of Idaho is breaking the law, but that is what this decision says.”

Judge orders shutdown of CdA Tribe’s poker tournaments at casino

U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill issued an injunction today ordering a halt to “Texas Hold ‘Em” poker tournaments at the Coeur d’Alene Casino at Worley, saying the tourneys violate Idaho’s ban on poker; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. The tribe argued that its tournaments are a game of skill, not chance, and that they don’t fit under the ban. In June, Winmill rejected the state’s bid for an injunction, instead calling for the state and tribe to go to arbitration over the issue, as provided for in their state-tribal gaming compact.

However, the judge wrote in his ruling today, “The Tribe changed its mind and decided it would prefer to litigate.” So Winmill considered the pending motions in the case – the tribe’s motion to dismiss the state’s lawsuit, and the state’s motion for an injunction shutting down the poker games. He rejected the tribe’s motion and granted the state’s.

“The Tribe believes it has the right to offer the poker tournaments and apparently will continue to do so absent an injunction,” Winmill wrote. “These poker tournaments violate Idaho gambling law. The upshot is that unless an injunction issues, the State will be left without any effective remedy.”

The tribe started offering the tournaments in May, prompting the state to file the lawsuit. The judge wrote that the lawsuit can go forward and the injunction will remain in place “until such time as this matter is heard and decided on the merits.” You can read the judge’s 24-page decision here. Winmill found that the state “will almost certainly succeed on the merits of its claims,” and held that chance is a key part of poker.

Gov. Butch Otter welcomed the ruling. “I appreciate the initial determination that the Coeur d’Alenes’ decision to conduct Texas Hold ’em games violates state law and the Idaho Constitution,” Otter said in a statement. “The Legislature and the people of Idaho have made it clear what kind of gambling they will accept. That does not include poker. And no matter how much the Tribe insists otherwise, Texas Hold ’em is poker.”

Judge hears arguments in tribal poker case

U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill heard from both the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the state of Idaho today in the state’s bid to shut down the tribe’s poker room at its Worley casino, but issued no immediate ruling. The federal judge is considering motions from the state for a temporary restraining order to halt the poker play and for injunctive action to block it in the future; and from the tribe to dismiss the state’s lawsuit.

The state contends that all poker is banned in Idaho, both in the Constitution and by state law. But the tribe argues that the type of poker it’s offering – Texas Hold ‘Em tournament play – falls under a legal definition for games of skill, not illegal gambling. That would mean if anyone else in the state is authorized to offer it, the tribe could too, under its gaming compact with the state. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com; the poker room at the Coeur d’Alene Casino opened May 2, and tribal officials said it’s proven popular.

State reply to tribe: Golf tourneys ‘bear no resemblance to poker,’ and Texas Hold ‘Em illegal even if others in state play it

The state of Idaho has filed its reply as its lawsuit against the Coeur d’Alene Tribe over the new poker room at the tribe’s Worley casino heads to a court hearing next week. In the latest filing, the state argues that events like golf tournaments “bear no resemblance to poker where chance is an essentially element of the game.” The tribe is arguing that the type of poker it’s offering, Texas Hold ‘Em tournament play, qualifies as a contest of skill – like a golf tournament – bringing it under an exemption in Idaho’s anti-gambling laws. Even though Idaho bans poker, the tribe argues, that prohibition doesn't apply if the game in question is one of skill, not just luck.

In its reply, the state argues that “any variant of ‘poker’ is plausibly, indeed necessarily, encompassed.” It also argues that the binding arbitration clause of the state-tribal gaming compact doesn’t foreclose it from filing this lawsuit, and discounts the tribe’s contention that Texas Hold ‘Em is widely played in Idaho.  “The fact that the law is violated commonly … does not eliminate the illegality,” the state’s attorneys write. “Were the contrary true, speed limits would become legal fictions.” You can read the state reply here. U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill will hear arguments in the case Tuesday in Coeur d’Alene, on the state’s motion for a temporary restraining order to shut the poker room down.

CdA Tribe’s response to state lawsuit: Legally, Texas Hold ‘Em poker is like golf

Texas Hold ‘Em poker is no different than golf under Idaho law, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe argues in its response to a lawsuit from the state – it’s a game of skill, in which players can pay fees to enter tournaments and win prizes for how well they do. “As the statute provides, even if the game of poker is prohibited, that prohibition does not apply if the game can be shown to be a ‘contest of skill,’” the tribe wrote in legal arguments submitted in court Friday; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

The state of Idaho sued the Coeur d’Alene Tribe in federal court on May 2, after the tribe opened a poker room at its Coeur d’Alene Casino in Worley. The state argued that poker is flat illegal in Idaho, prohibited both by the state Constitution and law. But the tribe said the type of poker it’s offering – Texas Hold ‘Em tournament play – is legal, and is widely played in Idaho. That makes it a type of Class II gaming, not Class III, under federal law, the tribe argues, so if anyone else can offer it in the state, tribes legally can, too.

CdA Tribe details education donations from gaming proceeds

When the Coeur d’Alene Tribe first signed a gaming compact with the state of Idaho in 1992, tribal leaders insisted on donating 5 percent of net casino gaming proceeds to education on or near their reservation – a gesture that has added up to $16.8 million in donations since 1994, including $1.5 million this year and $1.8 million last year. “The tribe originated the idea,” said David High, the now-retired deputy Idaho attorney general who for years oversaw negotiations with the state’s Indian tribes over gaming. “They didn’t have to do it.” In fact, High said, the National Indian Gaming Regulatory Act forbids states from taxing or assessing any kind of fees on the proceeds of tribal gaming. “Congress intended the tribes to get the financial benefit of Indian gaming and did not want the states trying to take a piece of that,” he said. But in the case of the Coeur d’Alenes, “The tribe has agreed to it is the thing,” High said.


Later, the tribe wrote the 5 percent contribution into a tribal gaming initiative that Idaho voters strongly approved in 2002, prompting two other Idaho tribes, the Kootenai and Nez Perce, to add it to their compacts as well. The result has been millions donated to schools and educational programs; you can read my full story here from Sunday's Spokesman-Review. The Coeur d'Alenes agreed to open their books on their educational donations for this article; the largest recipient over the years has been the Plummer/Worley School District.

Idaho's fourth gaming tribe, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in eastern Idaho, doesn't have a 5 percent donation clause in its compact. The Sho-Bans signed their compact with the state in 2000, and included a clause calling for a federal court case looking into which gambling machines were legal and which weren't. But their compact also included a clause saying if any other tribe got permission to operate specific machines, they could have them too.

The court case hadn't proceeded far when the initiative passed in 2002. The state tried to get the Sho-Bans to amend their compact to comply with the 2002 initiative, which not only included the 5 percent education donations, but also imposed limits on growth in the allowed number of gaming machines. The Sho-Bans went to federal court, and the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals sided with them in 2006, saying they didn't have to amend their compact. That left the Sho-Bans without either the 5 percent contribution requirement or the initiative's growth limits.

The success of the Coeur d'Alene Casino Resort Hotel, which has made the North Idaho tribe the second-largest employer in North Idaho, behind only Kootenai Medical Center, has prompted some grumbling in recent years over who got how much of the education money. That prompted the tribe to stop holding formal ceremonies announcing the donations for the past two years, which then led to speculation that the tribe no longer was making them, despite a statement from the director of the state Lottery Commission, which oversees tribal gaming, that the 5 percent pledge had been been met.

The hubbub prompted a series of public records requests to the Lottery Commission; most sought a breakdown of who got how much money from the Coeur d'Alenes' 5 percent donations, but the lottery doesn't have that information. Both the tribe's compact with the state and the 2002 initiative say the donations are handed out “at the sole discretion of the tribe.”

The only information the tribes hand over to the Lottery Commission is their audited financial statement, which shows the 5 percent figure, along with other proprietary information about their gaming operations, such as, in some cases, background checks on employees and information about security procedures. The Coeur d'Alene Tribe's compact with the state notes that the information the tribe hands over to the state is exempt from public disclosure under the trade secrets clause of the Idaho Public Records Law; it also states that if a court finds otherwise, the tribe no longer has to supply the documents to the state. Compacts between the state and the other tribes contain similar trade-secrets confidentiality provisions.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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