Oklahoma tribes seek order to keep commission from enforcing decision

Wednesday, June 19th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Three Oklahoma Indian tribes are seeking an injunction to keep the National Indian Gaming Commission from taking enforcement action against them while judges determine if a casino game is legal.

In a motion filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Tulsa, the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw nations stated that the commission's decision to categorize MegaNanza games and variations as Class III instead of Class II is contrary to prior appellate decisions on which they have relied to fund tribal governmental functions and projects.

``Indeed, many of those programs are entirely dependent upon the revenues from these kinds of games,'' according to the motion.

On Friday, the gaming commission warned all Oklahoma Indian tribes that their casinos could be closed if they continued to offer the game MegaNanza. The electronic gambling machine is played in most of the state's Indian casinos.

The tribes contend the game is an electronic version of bingo, but the gaming commission has concluded it is not a bingo game and is illegal in Oklahoma.

The tribes believe that if they were required to stop offering these games immediately, their ability to provide a sustainable economic base for tribal programs ``would disappear overnight.''

The motion asks for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

Mike Miller, spokesman for the Cherokee Nation, said the tribe offers MegaNanza at its casinos in Catoosa, West Siloam Springs and Roland. The tribe has a ``significant'' number of MegaNanza machines in the casinos, he said.

``It's worth fighting over,'' Miller said. ``We believe (MegaNanza) is a Class II game. We do a lot of research before we put a game in our casino to make sure.''

The tribes also want to intervene in a Texas company's lawsuit against the commission. Multimedia Games, Inc., which manufactures and markets MegaNanza, alleged in its lawsuit that it had to forgo a planned $100 million stock offering because of a letter from the commission. The commission has filed a motion stating that MultiMedia lacked standing to sue.

The gaming commission defines Class III games as Las Vegas-style gambling, including slot machines and card and dice games.

Blackjack in Indian casinos are the only exception to such gambling, which is illegal in Oklahoma and requires a compact between the state and the tribe.

Class II games, which include bingo and similar games, are legal at Indian casinos. MegaNanza is MultiMedia's most successful game, the company said.

``MegaNanza is not an attempt to play bingo, or a game similar to bingo, using an electronic aid,'' says the letter by commission Deputy General Counsel Penny J. Coleman.

``The system plays the entire game and notifies the player in an `entertaining display' of reels, bars and 7's of the results,'' Coleman wrote.

The tribes stated in Tuesday's motion that about 80 percent of their gaming revenues involve some sort of electronics.