May 3, 2014 in Idaho

CdA Tribe sued by Idaho over casino poker

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE – The state of Idaho sued the Coeur d’Alene Tribe in U.S. District Court on Friday as the tribe launched new poker games at the Coeur d’Alene Casino in Worley.

Poker is illegal in Idaho, according to the lawsuit filed by Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, and offering it at the tribal casino violates the tribe’s gaming compact with the state.

But tribal officials maintain the type of poker tournament play they’re offering is legal and already takes place elsewhere in the state. “If others are able to offer poker, why shouldn’t we?” Tribal Chairman Chief J. Allan asked.

He said the state’s objections appear to stem from “a misunderstanding of both the games that the Tribe plans to offer and the Tribe’s federal rights under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.”

State and tribal officials have been going back and forth over the issue for the past few weeks, but when the announced opening date for the poker room arrived without a resolution, the state sued, taking the tribe by surprise. “We found out from your blog,” tribal legislative liaison Helo Hancock told The Spokesman-Review. “It’s frustrating to have to learn in that manner. This lawsuit is completely unnecessary.”

Allan said, “We believe we are well within our right to offer poker. If the state has a problem with our legal analyses, they can invoke dispute resolution under our gaming compact – that’s why we have it – so we can negotiate our differences in a professional setting.”

The tribe had just sent a letter to state Lottery Director Jeff Anderson the same day the state sued, saying it would agree to an expedited dispute-resolution process and binding arbitration and proposing a Friday meeting. “It’s frustrating to see the state jump the gun on this,” Hancock said.

Otter said the law is clear “and it’s my duty to enforce and defend the constitution and the laws of Idaho.

“Despite discussions with tribal leaders and our best efforts at avoiding this situation, we have no choice but to act. I will continue working with the attorney general to uphold our laws and resolve this issue.”

The casino had announced plans to open its new poker room Friday offering Texas hold ’em and Omaha poker at six tables. Tribal officials said those are card games of skill with players competing against each other for stakes and no house bank involved, so they believe they don’t violate the compact.

“There’s obviously a legal disagreement here, and I think it’s something clearly reasonable minds could disagree on,” Hancock said. “We think the state statute has a clear exemption for contests of skill. And anybody who’s ever played poker knows that it’s not just a game of chance – people who are good at poker consistently win at poker.”

Coeur d’Alene Casino executives have considered offering poker for several years, saying marketing studies indicate the casino south of Coeur d’Alene is losing business to Indian casinos in Washington that offer card games and to commercial card rooms, which also are allowed in Washington.

In a Thursday letter to Allan, Anderson wrote, “Poker is not an authorized form of gaming” under the compact. He offered to go to arbitration with the tribe on the issue if it would delay the poker room’s opening.

The state’s lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to block the poker games; the federal court gave the tribe’s lawyers until May 27 to respond.


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