By Staff and wire report
Local bar and casino managers acknowledged today their revenue would be affected if the state grants Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation more freedom with its casinos.
Tribal leaders from Rocky Boy asked state officials Wednesday for a new gambling agreement that would allow around-the-clock gambling and unlimited jackpots in video poker and keno machines.
"I'm sure it would probably affect our business, because we do have some clientele that comes from Rocky Boy," said Jeff Nelsen, manager of Lucky Lil's Casino in Havre. "I don't know to what calibre, though. I think we offer a little bit more as far as service."
Jerry Bergren, owner of PJ's Restaurant & Casino, said his gambling profits would take a hit. He said he wants to be able to match whatever expanded gambling the state grants to the reservation.
"I guess what's good for the goose is good for the gander," he said. "I would like to have that option. Whatever they do (at Rocky Boy), I don't have a problem with, as long as we get the same opportunity."
More liberal regulations will help the Chippewa Cree Tribe make gambling a valuable economic tool on a reservation where the unemployment rate is 70 percent to 90 percent, they told Gov. Judy Martz and Attorney General Mike McGrath.
"We need jobs," said Daniel Belcourt, tribal attorney. "Gaming may not be our first choice, but it's something we have to look at."
He said the tribe is studying the possibility of building a casino and truckstop along U.S. 87 as it passes through the north-central Montana reservation and the kinds of changes requested in the 8-year-old interim gambling compact would help that project.
The meeting was the first step in the process of negotiating a new state-tribal gambling compact.
Last month, the state and Flathead tribes signed a new gambling agreement that allowed more tribal-owned poker and keno machines, and permitted machines in tribally owned bars to offer larger jackpots and accept bigger bets than elsewhere.
McGrath, whose Justice Department is responsible for gambling regulation, predicted the state and Chippewa Cree Tribe will be able to come to agreement on most of the issues. He said gambling compacts negotiated with other tribes will not dictate the outcome of talks with the Rocky Boy's tribe.
Martz said the state cannot agree to some of the requests and said state officials have to keep in mind the interests of off-reservation gambling businesses in whatever agreement is reached with the tribe.
If the state allows a unlimited number of tribal machines on the reservation, bar owners in Great Falls 90 miles south will want the same treatment, she said.
Sarah Bond, a Justice Department attorney, said none of the tribe's proposals appeared at first glance to be automatically off limits.
Federal law limits Indian gambling to the types of games allowed by a state government, but the conditions of play can be different on reservations. Bond said the tribe's list seems to deal with such conditions.
The tribal leaders want no limit on the number of video gambling machines the tribe can operate, no cap on the jackpots from the machines or prizes in card games, and 24-hour gambling. They also asked that video machines be able to accept currency up to $20 bills and that the devices pay out coins instead of printing a ticket showing a player's winnings.
The tribe also wants permission to have video poker machines that allow three hands to be played at once.
Pete LaMere, a tribal council member, said removing limits on jackpots makes sense since the state operates its own lottery games with very large top prizes.