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Despite lawsuit, tribe still has slot machines

More than a year after the U.S. attorney sued the Seminoles for having video slot machines in bingo halls, the case drags on.

By BRAD GOLDSTEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 29, 1998


As state and tribal leaders discuss allowing casino gambling on Indian land, U.S. Attorney Charles Wilson is continuing his efforts to pull the plug on hundreds of video slot machines now operating at the Seminoles' bingo halls.

Seminole gambling
Previous coverage
Seminole Gambling:
A Trail of Millions
: from the pages of the St. Petersburg Times.
Since Wilson asked a federal judge to order the removal of the machines from the tribe's Tampa and Immokalee gambling palaces last year, the case has inched forward, one motion at a time, with no clear resolution on the horizon.

While the slow pace has frustrated state officials, Wilson could find his actions undercut by the very administration that selected him to be a federal prosecutor. U.S. Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt is expected to release new regulations later this year that Babbitt hopes will overrule the state and give the Seminoles full casinos.

"We are aggressively trying to enjoin the tribe from having machines at their facilities," said Monte Richardson, executive assistant U.S. Attorney in Wilson's office. "We believe they are Class III devices and we are awaiting a ruling from the judge."

Slot machines, black jack, dice and roulette, for instance, are all considered Class III or Las Vegas-style games. Under federal Indian gambling laws, tribes must first receive state permission before offering Class III gambling.

Assistant Attorney General John Glogau said he thinks federal officials should be taking criminal rather than civil action against the Seminoles.

"We think it's illegal," said Glogau. "We think it's Class III gaming. . . . We have always taken the position that we want the federal government to enforce the law."

Glogau was particularly upset early this year when the Seminoles defied Wilson's authority and added more slot machines to the Tampa bingo hall.

The Seminoles show no signs of backing down. They have recently teamed with New Jersey casino owner Donald Trump to lobby state officials for full-scale casino gambling.

The tribe has proposed giving the state as much as 45 percent of its gambling profits in exchange for the right to operate casinos on Seminole reservations.

Wilson, who is the U.S. Attorney for the middle district of Florida, claimed the Seminoles violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act by offering Class III-style games without a state approved gambling compact.

In the past, the Seminoles have claimed the machines did not violate the law because they produced a ticket instead of a cash jackpot. But an FBI expert provided testimony to the contrary. That gave Wilson's office the evidence he needed to file suit.

Seminole lawyer Bruce Rogow is seeking to have Wilson's case thrown out of court. Last March, he cited a federal appellate decision from Washington that he thinks mirrors the Seminole matter.

According to his motion, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a federal injunction brought against the Spokane Tribe of Washington because the state refused to negotiate a gambling agreement in good faith. Federal authorities wanted the Spokane Tribe to stop offering Class III-style games without a compact.

Wilson's office has yet to respond to the motion.

State officials think the Washington case does not apply in Florida.

"We take the position that we are willing and able to negotiate in good faith," said Glogau. "We may come to some agreement or we may not."


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