Attorneys general from 35 states - including Idaho, Washington and Montana - have signed a letter to the National Indian Gaming Commission arguing that the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s Internet lottery is illegal.
“We wish to express our strong opposition,” the attorneys general wrote.
David Matheson, Coeur d’Alene tribal gaming CEO, responded, “It’s easy for state attorneys general to say ‘anything we do is right, and anything they (tribes) do is wrong.”’ He added, “We think we’re just a convenient target for political types to go after. Today you can access all kinds of gambling on the Internet, including gambling offered by the Red Cross. None of them are going after those people.”
The tribe has had its Internet lottery in a testing phase since May. But as soon as states learned of the operation, many opposed it. Missouri has filed a lawsuit against the tribe, seeking to stop it from accepting bets from Missouri residents.
The Coeur d’Alenes contend that when someone places a bet on their lottery via computer, the transaction actually takes place on their North Idaho reservation.
That’s the same argument they’ve used in favor of their proposed National Indian Lottery, through which players would place bets by phone. That proposal has been upheld at two levels in tribal court, and is now awaiting a possible appeal to federal court.
Idaho has raised no opposition to the telephone lottery, saying it appears to comply with the state Constitution and the tribe’s gaming compact with the state. Under federal law, tribes may conduct any type of gaming that’s legal elsewhere in a state, if they first negotiate a gaming compact.
But both Attorney General Al Lance and Gov. Phil Batt contend the Internet operation conflicts with Idaho’s constitutional ban on electronic simulations of casino gambling. In a June 3 letter to the National Indian Gaming Commission, Lance laid out those concerns. The tribe responded with a letter of its own, giving legal arguments in support of its operation.
The tribe contends that its Internet games are merely high-tech versions of existing Idaho Lottery games.
The letter from the 35 attorneys general details other legal arguments, contending that the gambling is not taking place on the reservation and that Internet gaming conflicts with other goals of federal Indian gaming laws, including the goal of involving states.
“I think different various states are concerned about this, basically feeling that Internet gaming undermines their own regulation of gaming in their own state,” said David High, a deputy Idaho attorney general who has been working on the issue. “We agree with the letter.”
He added, “We would probably have the same concern if it were a Nevada casino offering Internet gaming. … We would do what we could to stop it.”
Though the letter is the second signal of opposition Lance has sent to the national commission, he has yet to take any formal action against the tribe.
Batt met informally last week with Betty Richardson, U.S. attorney for Idaho. Richardson said afterward that she looks forward to the results of Batt’s committee that is holding hearings and studying gambling issues across the state this summer.
“The governor told me that he was very hopeful that his committee will have some good recommendations for him, and I encouraged him to get back to me after his committee has come up with those recommendations,” Richardson said.
The committee’s proposals are due in October.
Richardson also said the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. is looking into the whole Internet gambling issue.
“I think the department wants to fully understand where the tribe is coming from before making any judgments,” she said.
High said he had a call from the Department of Justice about a month ago asking about the Coeur d’Alenes’ Internet operation. Earlier, the tribe met with department officials in Washington and demonstrated their proposed games.
Batt’s spokesman, Frank Lockwood, said the governor wishes the tribe would voluntarily withdraw the Internet operation.
If federal authorities don’t act, the state might sue, both Lockwood and High said.
Said High, “From our perspective, the federal government ought to stop this. We think it violates Idaho law, but it’s really a national problem.”
The letter from the attorneys general was drafted by Minnesota Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III, and circulated at a recent national attorney generals’ conference. It was delivered to the National Indian Gaming Commission this week.
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