Oklahoma tribes helping to promote state lottery plan

Friday, October 29th 2004, 6:13 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- One of Oklahoma's most ardent gambling opponents is questioning the motives of the state's three largest gaming tribes in contributing $551,000 to promote passage of a state education lottery.

Officials of the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes said their contributions were intended to help education. But a Cherokee Nation official said the tribe wants to also help pass a separate state question involving tribal gaming.

"The lottery voter and the (State Question) 712 voter are very much the same voter," Cherokee Nation spokesman Mike Miller said. "It's in our interest to have people vote 'yes' for the lottery, because polls show those people also are likely to vote for 712."

SQ 712, which will appear on Tuesday's general election ballot, would authorize tribal casinos to offer faster electronic gambling machines, including video poker, plus card games pitting players against each other.

It also would allow three horse racing tracks to offer electronic gambling machines. The Cherokee and Choctaw tribes each own one of those tracks.

The state's share from both questions is earmarked for education.

Tribes wouldn't benefit directly from the lottery, State Question 705, unless their stores sell lottery tickets.

But state Rep. Forrest Claunch, R-Midwest City, said SQ 705 would open the state to Las Vegas-style gambling, particularly video lottery terminals.

His reasoning stems from the 1988 federal law that regulates Indian gaming. That law says that if a state offers Class III gambling, tribes in that state must be allowed to compact for the same type of gambling.

Class III includes slot machines, roulette, craps and lotteries.

Claunch thinks if the lottery passes, some tribes may install video lottery terminals. The National Indian Gaming Commission may issue fines, but the tribes will file protests.

"They win some of those cases," he said.

State Finance Director Scott Meacham, who helped craft the legislation that led to SQ 712, said state law only allows tribes to offer the same game a state allows.

"And the case law is very consistent on this. If we allowed them to play blackjack...that doesn't allow them to play poker," he said.

The state's lottery legislation specifically prohibits video lottery terminals, Meacham said. But all sides agree that a state lottery would allow tribes to compact with the state to conduct their own lotteries.

The Chickasaw Nation gave $251,000 to Oklahoma Kids Coalition, the main pro-lottery group, according to reports filed with the state Ethics Commission. The Cherokee and Choctaw nations gave $150,000 each.

Those contributions, plus $25,000 by the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, account for 73 percent of total money accumulated by Oklahoma Kids Coalition through Oct. 18.