A dispute between the state of Idaho and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe over Texas Hold ’Em-style poker games at the Coeur d’Alene Casino is headed for arbitration.
A May 2 lawsuit to halt the card games, which state officials say violate Idaho’s constitutional ban on poker, was premature, U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill said in a Monday ruling.
Idaho officials didn’t follow the dispute resolution process outlined in the gaming compact, Winmill wrote in his decision.
Under the terms of the compact, either the state or the tribe can assert noncompliance with the compact through a written notice to the other party. That triggers a 60-day window, when either party can request binding arbitration to resolve the dispute. Lawsuits can’t be filed during that 60-day window, the judge said.
On May 1, state officials sent a written notice to the tribe.
The next day, Gov. Butch Otter and state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden filed a lawsuit to halt poker games at the tribal-owned casino in Worley.
The Coeur d’Alene Tribe had just started offering Texas Hold ’Em and other poker games, which the tribe asserts are contests of skill that don’t violate Idaho’s prohibition on poker. Players compete against each other for stakes in a tournament-style setting, with no house bank involved.
“We believe we have a legal right to offer poker,” Eric Van Orden, the tribe’s attorney, said in a statement. “… The state jumped the gun and violated the provisions of our agreement when it raced to the courthouse with this unnecessary lawsuit.”
Otter’s office issued a statement expressing disappointment with the ruling.
“The state of Idaho remains committed to enforcing the rule of law that limits gambling in tribal casinos to clearly approved games – and poker isn’t one of them,” he said.
The Coeur d’Alene Casino has six poker tables. Marketing studies indicated that the casino was losing business to tribal casinos in Washington and to commercial card rooms, which also are allowed in Washington, casino executives said in an earlier interview.
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