Gov. Phil Batt wants the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s new Internet lottery shut down.
Batt said Friday that he and Attorney General Al Lance believe the games offered on the tribe’s “USLottery” Internet site are illegal casino games, and he’s asking the U.S. attorney’s office to take action.
If federal authorities don’t act, Batt said the state might sue.
Deputy Attorney General David High, speaking for Lance, said, “They are offering casino gaming on the Internet. Video lottery, video slots, video poker, video Keno, video blackjack - essentially the same games that you would find in any casino. And they’d be available in your home.”
Tribal officials, who met with Batt Wednesday to demonstrate the games, were taken aback.
The games are all electronic simulations of Idaho Lottery games, including specific scratch-off ticket games and the lottery drawing itself.
When customers play the tribe’s “Lotto 6/49” game, for example, they pick numbers and then watch as six balls are selected from among 49, to see if their numbers match the balls. That’s how Idaho Lottery drawings look when broadcast on television.
But High said the Lotto games are merely electronic depictions of casino-style Keno.
The tribe’s “Lucky 21” game is similar to a state lottery scratch-off game that uses a blackjack theme. But High said it’s really a depiction of the casino game of blackjack.
The state’s gaming compact with the tribe allows instant-win scratch-off games only if they’re played on paper, High said.
David Matheson, tribal gaming CEO, said, “That is so ridiculous. That’s like saying an accounting system is no longer an accounting system because it’s automated. Or saying files are no longer files because they’re not on paper, they’re on a computer disk. That’s more than splitting hairs. That’s taking things to a ridiculous level.”
Matheson said the tribe could, theoretically, require players to print out their tickets from their home computers in order to play.
Tribal officials, in addition to demonstrating the games to Batt, met with U.S. Justice Department officials in Washington, D.C., to show them their plans.
“We gave them a thorough demonstration, and nobody raised an objection or a tough question,” Matheson said. “There were people at that briefing in Washington from the criminal division, the computer fraud division, and other divisions. We wanted to make sure everybody, including the governor, had a chance to see what we were going to do before we did it.”
But Marc Haws, civil chief for the Idaho U.S. attorney’s office, said Friday that federal officials are concerned about the tribe’s Internet operation.
“This proposed action by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe to establish a national lottery which could be accessed to play casino games within a person’s own home is a very serious new development on the issue of Indian gaming,” Haws said.
“The United States has serious concerns about it, and the U.S. attorney’s office for the district of Idaho in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., is evaluating what actions the federal government might take.”
When the Coeur d’Alenes met with Batt and other state officials, Matheson said, “We pleaded with him and anybody in the room to tell us which of these games do you think are not acceptable, and we will gladly modify them so everybody is happy. And nobody would tell us.”
“We’re kind of shooting in the dark here,” Matheson said. “We’re trying to be the good guys about it. Then we leave town, and we find out we got ambushed.”
Both High and Batt said they wouldn’t object if the tribe ran a more traditional lottery, with drawings held at regular intervals such as three times a week, and sold its tickets over the Internet.
“We would not have a problem with that,” High said. “Many other states would, but we would not.”
Matheson said the tribe already is planning to do just that. It’s planning to add the traditional lottery to the services on the Internet site, which is at http://www.uslottery.com. The site is in only limited operation, with its official launch scheduled for next fall.
The state of Missouri already has sued the tribe in a county circuit court there, saying its Internet lottery violates Missouri state laws.
But the tribe says federal laws, not state laws, apply to its gaming operations. Under federal Indian gaming law, a sovereign Indian tribe may offer any game that’s legal in its state, if it negotiates a gaming compact with the state.
Said Batt, “I have told them in the past, if we have a lottery in Idaho, they can have a lottery.”
Matheson said High suggested at their meeting Wednesday that the tribe consider filing a friendly lawsuit to get a judge to rule on whether or not the Internet games fit in with the compact.
“We said that might not be a bad idea, we might want to do that,” Matheson said. “But now, we don’t know how to read the statements of today.”
The tribe’s compact with the state has provisions for binding arbitration to resolve disagreements, he noted.
“Instead of grandstanding and saber-rattling, there’s a logical and reasonable way to handle this.” , DataTimes MEMO: Cut in Spokane edition
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