BOISE – A federal judge on Friday ordered a halt to “Texas Hold ‘Em” poker tournaments at the Coeur d’Alene Casino at Worley, saying the tourneys violate Idaho’s ban on poker; the Coeur d’Alene tribe immediately appealed the ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The tribe argues that its tournaments are a game of skill, not chance, and that they don’t fit under Idaho’s state law banning poker. In June, U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill rejected the state’s bid for an injunction to shut down the games, instead calling for the state and tribe to go to arbitration over the issue, as provided for in their state-tribal gaming compact.
However, the judge wrote in his ruling Friday, “The Tribe changed its mind and decided it would prefer to litigate.” So Winmill considered the pending motions in the case – the tribe’s motion to dismiss the state’s lawsuit, and the state’s motion for an injunction shutting down the poker games. He rejected the tribe’s motion and granted the state’s, ordering a halt to the tournaments while the case goes to trial.
“The Tribe believes it has the right to offer the poker tournaments and apparently will continue to do so absent an injunction,” Winmill wrote. “These poker tournaments violate Idaho gambling law. The upshot is that unless an injunction issues, the state will be left without any effective remedy.”
Helo Hancock, tribal legislative affairs director, said the tribe didn’t decide against arbitration and didn’t want to litigate the issue. “It appears there may be a misunderstanding by the court,” he said. “Because our compact is clear that it is the aggrieved party that is supposed to file or provide notice of their intent to arbitrate. And we’re not the aggrieved party. We don’t think we’re doing anything wrong. We think we’re well within our rights. It was the state who sued us, and accordingly it would be the state’s responsibility as the aggrieved party to file notice of their intent to arbitrate. That really isn’t on the tribe.”
Hancock said casino officials were awaiting advice from counsel late Friday on whether the poker room will stay open or not as tribe awaits word on its appeal; as of Friday evening, it was still open.
Tribal attorney Eric Van Orden said, “We still believe that we have valid legal arguments under federal law for offering poker at our casino and the court’s decision did not fully consider some of those arguments.”
Chief Allan, tribal chairman, said, “Obviously, we’re very disappointed in Judge Winmill’s decision. Poker is so widely played across the state by so many different people and organizations that it sounds ridiculous to say that everyone playing poker in the State of Idaho is breaking the law, but that is what this decision says.”
The tribe started offering the tournaments in May, prompting the state to file the lawsuit. The judge wrote that the lawsuit can go forward and the injunction will remain in place “until such time as this matter is heard and decided on the merits.”
Gov. Butch Otter welcomed Winmill’s ruling. “I appreciate the initial determination that the Coeur d’Alenes’ decision to conduct Texas Hold ’em games violates state law and the Idaho Constitution,” Otter said in a statement. “The Legislature and the people of Idaho have made it clear what kind of gambling they will accept. That does not include poker. And no matter how much the Tribe insists otherwise, Texas Hold ’em is poker.”
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