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California and the West

Indian Casinos Ordered to End Video Gaming

Gambling: But federal judge sets the final deadline for after November election, meaning the order becomes moot if measure passes.


A Los Angeles federal judge on Tuesday gave nine Indian tribes until Dec. 4 at the latest to shut down all unauthorized video gambling machines at their Southern California casinos.

But U.S. District Judge J. Spencer Letts' injunction could prove moot if California voters approve Proposition 5, the Nov. 3 ballot measure calling for the continuation of existing casino operations on Indian reservations.

Letts had announced his intentions last month, but delayed issuing a final order out of concern for casino employees who would find themselves out of work.

The nine reservations affected are in Riverside, San Bernardino and Santa Barbara counties and employ about 5,000 people.

The judge gave the tribes two choices for complying with his order. In one, they can shut down their hundreds of machines in stages, starting on Oct. 23 and ending on Nov. 20. Under the other option, they can wait until Dec. 4 before shutting down all machines, provided that no workers are laid off before that time.

At the heart of Lett's ruling is a 1988 federal law that requires Indian tribes to negotiate compacts with the states for certain kinds of gambling.

Although 11 California tribes have reached agreements with the state, most of the others have accused Gov. Pete Wilson of negotiating in bad faith and have led a multimillion-dollar ballot campaign to eliminate the state's authority.

In his ruling, however, Letts rejected the tribes' claim that the state had acted in bad faith.

Even if he had found that California did act in bad faith, the judge said he still would have been obliged to issue his injunction because the 1988 federal law provides that all Indian gambling conducted in the absence of required tribal-state compacts is illegal.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, which sought the injunction, said, "We are pleased that the judge granted our request for a permanent injunction and we hope this leads to an orderly termination of illegal gambling in our district."

In Sacramento, Wilson's office said Letts' order "vindicates the state's position that the tribes backing Proposition 5 have been engaged in illegal gambling in violation of federal law."

But George Forman, attorney for the Agua Caliente Indian band, said Letts' injunction confirms the necessity for passage of Proposition 5, which he called vital for the survival of California's tribes.

In addition to the Aqua Caliente band, the injunction names the Santa Ynez, Cabazon, Cahuilla, Morongo, Pechanga, Soboba, Twentynine Palms and San Manuel Bands of Mission Indians.

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