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Arizona Tribal Casinos Dealt a Blow

July 04, 2001|From Associated Press

PHOENIX — A judge ruled Tuesday that state law does not allow slot machines, keno or blackjack and that the governor does not have the authority to negotiate gambling compacts with Indian tribes.

Arizona horse and dog racing tracks sued the state, seeking to stop Gov. Jane Dee Hull from signing new compacts with the tribes. The tracks fear tribal casino expansion would put them out of business.

U.S. District Judge Robert C. Broomfield's decision appears to be a victory for the tracks, but it is unclear what it will mean for existing compacts and tribal casinos.

"The ultimate reach of this, it's just too soon to tell," said state Atty. Gen. Janet Napolitano, whose office represents the state in the case.

The decision, if upheld, could block the governor from negotiating compacts, Napolitano said.

Napolitano does not believe the ruling will invalidate the compacts.

Asked if the ruling will shut down casinos in Arizona, Napolitano said "not for the time being."

David LaSarte, executive director of the Arizona Indian Gaming Assn., said it's too early to gauge the effect of the ruling, but he believes gambling continues to receive strong public support.

"This decision may represent some small victory for the race tracks, but when the dust settles I believe the will of the people will prevail," he said.

Stephen Hart, director of the Arizona Department of Gaming, said he was surprised by the decision "because we felt all along that the law appropriately authorizes the governor to negotiate gaming compacts."

Broomfield is scheduled to finalize the judgment in about two weeks.

Federal law allows Indian tribes to operate casinos with any type of gambling allowed by the state. Arizona tribes have used previous rulings to establish casinos with poker and slot machines. Tuesday's ruling would invalidate that authority, placing the casinos' future in doubt once existing state compacts expire, starting in 2003.

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