B-I-N-G-O: PCI gaming ‘wins’ battle

Published 9:47 am Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In what could be considered another victory for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, one Federal agency told Alabama officials current gaming conducted on Tribal grounds is legal.

In a letter to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange last week, National Indian Gaming Commission Chairwoman Tracie Stevens said the issue is clear based on the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act put in place by Congress in 1988.

“So long as a state permits the game of bingo, regardless of the state’s definition of the game, an Indian tribe within that state may also play bingo as defined in IGRA,” Stevens said in her letter. “Accordingly, tribes are not bound to state definitions of the game of bingo. If a state permits paper bingo only, as Mr. Strange represents Alabama does, a tribe within that state may play electronic bingo so long as it otherwise meets IGRA’s Class II gaming definition.”

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Strange had previously contacted NIGC members by letter stating his view on the legality of machines operated by facilities owned and operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

“While several local constitutional amendments have authorized ‘charity bingo’ in certain Alabama counties, absolutely no amendment to the Alabama Constitution has authorized slot machines or other illegal gambling devices in any county,” Strange wrote. “Machines that accept cash or credit and then dispense cash value prizes based upon chance are slot machines under Alabama law and are not made legal by any bingo amendment. Likewise, no local bingo rule, regulation or ordinance can legally authorize slot machines.”

Stevens said because of rulings put in place by IGRA, tribes across the state are allowed to play bingo based on the Act and are not governed by state law.

IGRA defines bingo, through its definition of Class II gaming, which includes: the game of chance commonly known as bingo (whether or not electronic, computer or other technologic aids are used in connection therewith; which is played for prizes, including monetary prizes, with cards bearing numbers or other designations; in which the holder of the card covers such numbers of designations when objects, similarly number or designated, are drawn or electronically determined; and in which the game is won by the first person covering a previously designated arrangement of numbers of designations on such cards, including (if played in the same location) pull-tabs, lotto, punch boards, tip jars, instant bingo, and other games similar to bingo.

“In enacting this definition, Congress clearly intended that tribes should have every opportunity to take advantage of technology in the play of bingo,” Stevens said. “IGRA specifically includes bingo played with an ‘electronic, computer or other technological aid.’ Further, in its report accompanying IGR, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs stated that it specifically rejects any inference that tribes should restrict class II games to existing games sizes, levels of participation or current technology.”

Although Strange could not be reached for additional comments Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Sonny Regan said some machines currently operated by Native Americans may actually be considered Class III slot machines.

“The Attorney General has always maintained that Native American gaming is a matter of federal law and the letter from the NIGC confirmed that fact,” Regan said. “We realize that Native American tribes can operate Class II bingo machines in Alabama but we have concerns that some machines are actually Class III slot machines. The NIGC letter reaffirmed the Attorney General’s position that Class III slot machines are illegal on tribal lands in Alabama and further stated that electronic bingo machines may be used as long as their use does not change ‘the fundamental characteristics’ of the traditional game of bingo. We will continue to pursue our concerns with the National Indian Gaming Commission.”

Officials with Poarch Creek Indian Gaming could not be reached for comment as of press time.