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Tribal Court Mulls National Lottery Hang-Up At&T; Cites Letters From Attorneys General In Fighting Order To Provide Long-Distance Service

It could bring in $200 million a year, and it would bring 300 new jobs to the tiny town of Worley, Idaho.

But not until judges who met Monday make up their minds about the Coeur d’Alenes’ proposed National Indian Lottery.

AT&T; asked the tribal court to overturn a 1996 ruling that said the proposed lottery is legal and that ordered AT&T; to provide it with telephone service.

“The judges just announced they are not making a decision on the bench,” said Dave Matheson, director of the tribe’s gaming operations. “They’ll make a decision as soon as they can.”

No judgment date was set.

The hearing is the latest chapter in the tribe’s two-year push to get its telephone game off the hook.

Even though the lottery is on hold, the tribe is moving ahead, albeit slowly. A building to house lottery offices has been completed. And the company that will manage the lottery, Unistar, has run an advertisement for a financial director.

“We hope we’re on the fringe of getting started,” Matheson said.

The legal spat started almost as soon as the lottery was announced in 1995. Attorneys general from about a dozen states sent letters to telephone companies, warning that the telephone lottery was illegal in their states.

“That’s the crux of their entire argument in court,” Matheson said of AT&T.; “Those letters.”

The company balked and refused to offer the tribe phone service. AT&T;’s attorney could not be reached for comment Monday.

“AT&T; said the letters had the power in effect to prohibit them from providing phone service,” Matheson said. “We denied that.”

So the Coeur d’Alenes sued and won. AT&T; appealed. Matheson said if the tribal court upholds the previous decision, he expects AT&T; to appeal again, this time to federal court.

If that happens, Matheson said, the tribe will press AT&T; to connect them immediately, at least until a federal court orders otherwise.

“If AT&T; or any long-distance carrier would provide service, we could open in a matter of months,” he said.

The states that are opposed contend the tribe has a gaming compact with Idaho, not with them.

Technically, it all comes down to whether or not an over-the-phone ticket transaction is considered to have occurred on the reservation in Idaho, or in the state where the ticket purchaser lives.

But it’s also a matter of dollars. The game would operate only in the 36 states that already have their own lotteries.

Frank Fahrenkopf - president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, and chairman of the Republican Party for six of Ronald Reagan’s eight years as president - said the lottery likely would be a huge moneymaker. He chalks up the opposition to the increased competition a national lottery would mean for state games.

In Idaho, there is no state opposition to the tribe’s plan.

“Idaho supports the tribal lottery, and we think it’s a reasonable thing for them to do,” said Deputy Attorney General Dave High.

Meanwhile, Matheson waits.

“I haven’t given up,” he said. “We just feel it takes so long when judges and attorneys get involved.”

, DataTimes

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