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Wyoming tribe wins Class III gaming case again

The Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming is "ecstatic" after its gaming rights were affirmed by a federal appeals court for the second time, Chairman Richard Brannan said on Monday.

The tribe has fought the state over the types of gaming that are legal on the reservation. The tribe wants to offer Class III gaming, including slot machines, while the state has argued for a much more limited set of games.

A federal judge initially sided with the tribe but the state appealed. In November 2004, a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the tribe was entitled to "the full gamut of casino-style Class III gambling."

The ruling was in doubt when the state asked for a rehearing, which was granted. But after holding new arguments in May, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals by a 9-3 vote on Friday reversed itself, revoked the rehearing and reaffirmed the earlier ruling in favor of the tribe.

"We�re ecstatic," Brannan, the chairman of the tribe's business council, said in response. "I can't imagine any gaming that is not included in the phrase 'the full gamut of casino-style Class III gambling.' Now, the ruling is final and the litigation is over."

Although an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is possible, it is not likely the case would be accepted, according to I. Nelson Rose, a Whittier Law School professor and gaming law expert. At a recent conference, he said the justices aren't interested in deciding which types of gaming are legal on reservations despite being pressured by states to do so.

With victory in hand, the tribe is moving forward with a $10.3 million, 30,000-square foot casino. The facility is expected to open by Christmas. The tribe is also expanding its existing gaming facility.

"This means several million dollars a year in funding for tribal government and about 250 permanent jobs," said Anthony "Al" Addison, the co-chairman of the business council.

According to a lawyer for the Arapahos, other tribes will benefit from the ruling. Andrew Baldwin of the Baldwin & Crocker firm in Lander, Wyoming, said the 10th Circuit issued a "scope of gaming" ruling for the first time.

"If a state allows a game, or category of games, for any purpose, tribes can offer the same games under federal law to raise revenue for social services, education, law enforcement, and other governmental purposes," Baldwin said.

The 10th Circuit covers tribes in Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma, Utah, New Mexico and Kansas. Class III gaming is allowed in every state except Utah. Oklahoma voters recently approved some Class III games but not slot machines.

The full text of the court's latest order wasn't published on the court's record system. But the entry in the docket noted the 9-3 vote on Friday, July 8. More than just a procedural move, the majority terminated the case "on the merits," the entry noted.

Only Judges Mary Beck Briscoe, Michael W. McConnell and Timothy M. Tymkovich dissented. They would have asked the Wyoming Supreme Court to clarify certain state law questions regarding gaming, according to the docket.

To offer Class III gaming, the tribe could negotiate a compact with the state. The 10th Circuit last November already ruled that the state was acting in "bad faith."

The tribe can pursue Class III gaming through the Interior Department. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows the department to issue scope of gaming rules in cases where states won't negotiate.

Wyoming is home to two federally recognized tribes. The Northern Arapaho Tribe and the Eastern Shoshone Tribe reside on the Wind River Reservation.

10th Circuit Decision:
Northern Arapaho Tribe v. Wyoming (November 23, 2004)

Relevant Links:
Northern Arapaho Tribe -