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Idaho Tribes Told Video Games Illegal Attorney General Wants Machines Unplugged

Attorney General Alan Lance wants Idaho Indian tribes to permanently unplug their highly lucrative video lottery and video pull-tab machines, calling the popular games illegal.

But leaders of two North Idaho tribes said economic self-sufficiency and millions of dollars in gaming revenue are at stake, and they vowed not to shut down the machines without a court fight.

In a letter last week to the tribes, Lance said a recent federal court ruling supports the state’s argument that the games violate the law.

“Now it is clear that the U.S. District Court in Idaho has determined that the video pull-tab or video lottery games are not legal in Idaho,” the attorney general said.

Lance set no deadline for shutting down the video machines, but urged tribal leaders to contact him “as soon as possible” about voluntarily ceasing their operation.

However, Dave Matheson, general manager of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s bingo hall near Worley, said the tribe would not stop using its 370 machines. He estimated half the people who visit the bingo hall come just to play them.

Matheson said Lance’s letter provided no new information.

“We’ve always known their position and they’ve known ours,” he said. “Ultimately, it will probably be determined by some court.”

Deputy Attorney General David High said the gaming compact between the state and the Coeur d’Alenes does not authorize video pulltabs.

In Bonners Ferry, Kootenai Tribal Council member Mildred Aitken said the 300 machines at the Kootenai River Inn could be modified to comply with state law simply by changing the way game receipts are distributed to players.

“We plan to continue operation,” Aitken said.

High said he doubted such acceptable changes would be possible.

Matheson said he was frustrated the state was trying to interfere with the successful gaming operation.

“It just seems like every time we start doing something well, somebody wants to take it away from us,” he said.

High said he recognized the economic plight many tribes face.

“The tribes are correct that they have some very serious economic problems and need economic development,” he said. “But from the state’s point of view, it is not an activity that is consistent with public policy. This is not the way economic development should occur.”

However, when legislators decided in 1992 to back a constitutional amendment banning casino-style gambling on reservations they promised the state would help the tribes find alternative economic development strategies. That promise remains unfulfilled.

Tags: gambling