Indian gaming still in legal muddle

  States and tribes fighting over Indian gaming were looking to a U.S. Supreme Court case, Seminole Tribe vs. the State of Florida, to clarify the future of the contentious, $4-billion-a-year industry (HCN, 4/1/96). Instead, legal experts are hailing the March 27 ruling as a clear victory for states' rights but an unclear directive for Indian gaming.


"It's just opened the door to lots more litigation," says Bill Thompson, a gambling scholar at the University of Las Vegas.


The National Indian Gaming Association interprets the court's opinion as leaving the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act intact while surgically removing the provision that allowed tribes to sue states for refusing to negotiate gambling agreements.


Legal experts say the ruling may make it easier for tribes to open gaming operations. They must now appeal directly to the secretary of Interior when state negotiations fail, rather than suing in court. "It may well be that the states won the battle but lost the war by cutting themselves out completely," observes Howard Dickstein, a tribal attorney in California, in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.


But it isn't clear how Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt will react when faced with failed negotiations. "Everyone will probably try to tiptoe through the tulips until the November election is over," says Thompson. "If it's Dole, the Indians will lose. If it's Clinton, the Indians will probably win." Once the election is over, Congress will also likely take a stab at revising the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.


*Elizabeth Manning