JUDGE orders gaming center to stop offering games

Tuesday, August 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A federal judge has ordered a tribal gaming center to stop offering electronic games that resemble slot machines.

U.S. District Judge Wayne Alley told the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, operator of the Thunderbird Entertainment Center near Norman, to shut down gambling devices called ``Red Hot Re-Spin'' and ``Buffalo Nickels'' as well as similar devices

Mickey Burke, general manager of the 48,000-square-foot casino, said he expects the tribe to appeal.

Alley's order, handed down on Friday, will remain in effect until the National Indian Gaming Commission makes a final decision on the legality of the games.

The tribe has administrative appeals pending before the commission. Those appeals are to be heard in October.

At issue is whether the machines are games of skill or chance. The tribes contend the machines require a level of skill by the player and are not games of chance, which are illegal in Oklahoma.

The games look like slot machines, but the players determine when each reel stops spinning by pushing a button.

The commission first ordered the tribe 20 months ago to stop offering similar electronic games. The tribe appealed and sought relief in federal court. But Alley denied the tribe's request for a temporary restraining order.

The machines in question were then removed from the casino and replaced by other machines thought to be permissible, said Gary Pitchlynn, the tribe's attorney.

But the commission ruled the new machines were illegal and in May 2000 issued a second closure order against the gaming center. The tribe continued operating the machines despite the commission's order.

In January, the U.S. attorney's office in Oklahoma City filed a civil lawsuit seeking enforcement of the closure order.

In February, a federal judge in Muskogee ruled for the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma in a similar case. The commission ordered the Seminoles to shut down similar machines at its gaming centers, but the tribe continued offering them.

Federal prosecutors in Muskogee sued to enforce the commission's order. But former U.S. District Judge Michael Burrage ruled the commission overstepped its authority and denied due process to the tribe.

Federal prosecutors this month sent a notice of intent to appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

The Absentee Shawnee Tribe and the Seminole Nation have requests pending with the state for a compact to operate Class III machines. Federal law allows Class III gaming in states where such compacts are negotiated.

The tribes sued the state this year, claiming Oklahoma officials won't negotiate with them _ a violation of the National Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The act says states must negotiate with tribes within 180 days of getting a request.

State officials claim the tribes have never fully laid out their Class III intentions.