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Helena, Montana

Butte gambling changes would extend to tribes 
By Charles S. Johnson of The Montana Standard (Standard State Bureau)

March 12, 2003

"I think the tribes understand the condition that Butte is in and they have empathy. But one of the questions I heard is why can't the state go ahead and deal with Butte's issue, without involving the tribes, and let the tribes do what they want to do. The tribes don't want to be the scapegoat." Steve Kelly, attorney and legislative liaison for the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council.
>> Tribes offered deal? Billings Gazette Article

If the state legalizes wide-open gambling in a special entertainment district in Butte, five American Indian tribes in Montana under federal law could seek automatic approval to expand gambling on their reservations to match it, a state Justice Department lawyer says. 

Gene Huntington, administrator of the state Gambling Control Division, asked state Assistant Attorney General Sarah Bond to assess the implications on Indian gambling if the Butte gambling proposal should become law. Bond specializes in Indian law in the attorney general's office. 

"The short answer is that if wide-open gambling were allowed, even in only certain areas in Montana, the state would be obligated under federal law to negotiate in good faith with any tribe that requested such negotiations to allow those games," Bond wrote in a recent memorandum. "Further, the current compacts with five of the tribes also contain some form of automatic approval for addition al games and conditions of play authorized under state law during terms of the compact." 

Bond said the state has com pacts with five tribal governments: the Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Rocky Boys, Fort Peck and Flathead. 

The state is in negotiations for a compact with the Fort Belknap tribal government. Montana has no agreement with the Blackfeet Tribe, and the Little Shell Band of the Chippewa Indians is in the processing of obtaining federal recognition, but it has not yet occurred. 

"In acknowledgment of the federal requirement to negotiate for additional games allowed under state law, each of these compacts contains some form of automatic ratchet-up provision that if the state authorized less restrictive conditions of play, for example, payouts or additional games, the compact is automatically amended upon the tribe serving the state with notice that it wishes to offer those additional games or conditions under the same parameters as the new state law," she wrote in a Feb. 28 memo. "Alternatively, the tribes could request additional negotiations for additional games and conditions less restrictive than the newly allowed games." 

The issue arose because of the as-yet-unfiled bill that would create a music and entertainment zone in Butte as part of a project called Destination Montana. The developers say they would create a $1.8 billion construction project with 10 casinos, 40 musical theaters like those in Branson, Mo., three professional golf courses, six high-altitude sports training centers for profession al sports teams and 10,000 motel and hotel rooms. 

A key feature of the entertainment zone would be expanded gambling far beyond current state limits and without any betting limits or limited hours as are imposed elsewhere in the state. The proposed bill would legalize roulette, keno, bingo, fan tan, 21 or blackjack, craps, poker and baccarat, as well as slot machines, keno machines, bingo machines, power machines, blackjack machines and pari-mutuel betting. Only sports betting would be barred. 

The chief developer is Barrett Singer, president of Foxx Industries of West Palm Beach, Fla. 

Rep. John Witt, R-Carter, is expected to sponsor the bill, but he has said he wants to limit wide-open gambling to a single site and not open it up elsewhere in Montana. 

In response, Evan Barrett, executive director of the Butte Local Development Corp., helping promote the project, said the federal law does give tribes the right to seek expanded gambling to match any expanded gambling in the state. 

"That does not address the issue of choice," Barrett said. 

"Under the federal law, any expansion of gaming in a state or any changing of conditions of gaming would trigger the same opportunity with the tribes," Barrett added. "They would have the ability to pursue it (expanded gambling), not that they would (have to do it). It triggers their right to have the same gaming." 

Added Barrett: "The developers expect to have some discussions with the tribes." 

Barrett said the way the bill is being written, it would have a delayed effective date of July 1, 2006. The measure would contain a "poison pill" and if the project doesn't come together by Dec. 31, 2005, the law would be voided. 

"Certainly, if the bill does not pass, there's no expanded gaming" on reservations, Barrett said. "If the bill passes, there can be." 

Copyright Charles S. Johnson and the Montana Standard, reproduced by permission.


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