Saturday, August 29, 2009

Changes to Texas gaming laws won’t come easy

By S.E. Ruckman, Today correspondent

Story Published: Aug 7, 2009

EL PASO, Texas – Any hopes that Indian tribes in Texas had to resurrect gaming in their state were laid to rest again after legislators voted down efforts to further a related bill in May.

Meanwhile, another tribe, the Fort Sill Apache of Oklahoma, are forging plans for its debated gaming site in New Mexico.

The efforts represent tribes tackling obstacles to sovereignty regarding gaming, officials for both tribes said.

“We’ve been unsuccessful, but we’ve been close,” said Tom Diamond, tribal counsel for the 1,400-member Tiguas.

On the Tigua end, the tribe has backed several bills that would help them receive state casino licenses. Their political involvement was spurred by the closing of its Speaking Rock Casino in 2002, by now Texas Sen. John Cornyn, once the Lone Star State’s attorney general.

Two other recognized tribes in Texas are the Alabama Coushatta and the Kickapoos of Texas. The Kickapoo currently have poker and bingo but also back the pro-Indian gaming moves in Texas. Opponents to Texas gaming said allowing tribal gaming will increase violent crime, raise bankruptcies and spawn gaming addictions.

The window on changing current restrictive gaming laws in Texas faces further resistance because Texas lawmakers meet every two years for a four-month session. That time frame hampers and helps the Tiguas develop a plan that would allow the tribe to reopen its casino, officials said.

“Texans don’t want to recognize that Indians have any rights at all,” Diamond said. “Their sovereignty policy amounts to annihilation.”

A reopened Speaking Rock Casino would mean an estimated $60 million annually for the small tribe that now relies mostly on federal grants to stay alive. The tribe has been forced to cut back on services due to the economic downturn.

“Can you imagine what a small tribe can do with that kind of money,” Diamond said.

Other developments have held the tribe back since the tribe paid former lobbyist Jack Abramoff $4.2 million to secure help in reopening the casino after siding with the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana to back its closing.

Also, a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling said Texas laws against casino gambling stands for all Texas tribes. A more recent setback for gaming came when Texas was able to leverage stimulus funds that allowed them to dismiss tribal gaming as an answer to a revenue shortfall. Texas gaming proponents estimate $4.5 billion a year could come from casino gaming.

Meanwhile, the Fort Sill Apaches are
visualizing their Apache Homelands Casino near Deming, N.M. as there to stay, said tribal chairman, Jeff Houser. The 600-member tribe operates one casino in Lawton, Okla. less than one mile from the Comanche Nation facility. Houser said the 30-acre site could be a boon to an area that has little industry.

“It’s a desire (for the tribe) to return to our homelands.”

The tribe raised the ire of New Mexico officials when it opened a second casino outside its current tribal jurisdiction in southwest Oklahoma. The issue here is one of successfully realizing a post-1988 trust land acquisition, Houser said.

Historical shuffling also plays a part in this debate as the tribe says it’s the successor to the Chiricahua Apaches which claimed a homeland of 16 million acres on land located in New Mexico and Arizona. The tribe is reclaiming its land base and asserting its sovereignty, tribal officials said.

After opening the Apache Homelands casino, the tribe pulled down gaming machines at the site it had bought from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation in Oklahoma. State officials said the casino is illegal because the tribe didn’t have a Class III gaming compact with them.

But Houser says plans are moving forward and the tribe runs a steady paper bingo and pull tabs operation on its purchased property. Class II gaming is allowed by federal statute without state compacts, according to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.

Houser and other casino officials said the plan is to maintain an operative presence in New Mexico until it secures a meeting with state officials.

A Freedom of Information Act request was submitted to the National Indian Gaming Commission on the Tigua and Fort Sill Apache decisions and is pending.

Woman banned from Conroe bingo hall

05:43 PM CDT on Friday, August 7, 2009

By Jeff McShan / 11 News

CONROE, Texas – A Huntsville woman says she was banned from a bingo hall in Conroe after she said she noticed something fishy and started asking questions.

Huntsville woman banned from playing bingo
Veronica Smith received a letter that consisted of only one sentence: “'You are no longer eligible to play bingo in this hall or be on the premises per Commander Kenny' -- whatever his last name is,” Smith said, reading the letter aloud.

The letter was from Commander Kenny Shelsteder, who runs the VFW Post 4709 in Conroe.

The VFW Post is where bingo is played Tuesday, Thursday and twice on Friday.

“I love bingo. I have been playing for over 30 years,” said Smith.

Now Smith isn't even allowed in the parking lot of the Conroe bingo hall. In fact, while she was doing the interview with 11 News across the street from the bingo hall, the VFW Post called the police.

“I feel terrible. It makes me mad. It makes me real mad because they have a lot of my money,” said Smith.

Smith says she was kicked out of the bingo hall after she called the Bingo Commission and filed a complaint. She told them the VFW Post was cheating.

One of her allegations is that bingo hall employees get to play and then mysteriously win a lot of money.

“On the pull tabs one night, she (an employee) won seven times. That is just unreal,” Smith said.

11 New has confirmed that the bingo hall is under investigation by the state. We also found two other patrons who believe cheating is taking place there.

But Commander Shelsteder says that's not happening and claims Smith was banned not because she filed a complaint, but for other reasons.

“She can’t keep her mouth shut. People around her can't play their bingo right. She accuses all my workers of stealing, lying and cheating,” Commander Kenny Shelsteder said.

“He's lying. He's lying, and anybody will tell you that,” Smith said.

Regardless of who is right in this case, Shelsteder says he can ban anyone from the hall.

In the meantime, Smith has called the Bingo Commission again, hoping they might do something because her life without bingo just isn't the same.

Proposal revamps how bingo is run

August 22, 2009

Ky. wants centralized purchasing, computerized record keeping

By Gregory A. Hall

RANKFORT, Ky. — Bingo halls and charities face an accounting nightmare — keeping records by hand — that results in lost supplies and revenues as they work with more than 20 distributors and manufacturers lining up supplies to put on fundraising games.

The state Department of Charitable Gaming wants to centralize purchasing for bingo and pull-tab supplies and computerize the charities' record keeping. The agency believes the steps will reduce prices, improve accountability and leave charities with more money to support their causes.

What exists now is very archaic and a burden, said Henry Lackey, the state commissioner of charitable gaming.

Based on audits of some of its charities, the department estimates that $100 million a year –— about a fifth of the total amount accounted for in charity games — goes unreported because of theft and clerical errors.

The state also estimates charities lose $600,000 a year from accepting bad checks and have to pay $300,000 for bookkeeping to deal with the current paperwork.

The proposed system would verify that checks are good, state bingo officers said.

Kentucky regulators want to seek proposals for suppliers of record-keeping software bingo equipment and pull tabs.

The state also wants to take bids to distribute the supplies purchased at the state-contracted prices.

Assuming the bids show the system would save money, state officials would seek legislation in January granting authority to implement the new system by fall 2010.

Some in the charitable gambling industry –— which in Kentucky saw $509million wagered in 2007, more than the $470million bet in the state on horse racing — question whether the proposed system would achieve those goals.

State charitable gambling officials expect a fight from distributors and manufacturers, some of whom stand to lose out if purchasing is centralized.

“I think this is a train wreck for the department to get involved in free trade,” said Kaven Rumpel, president of the Kentucky Charitable Gaming Association and owner of the Highview bingo hall, who said that the changes could result in less competition and higher prices for supplies — even though he likes some of the computerized record keeping that is proposed.

Charitable gambling officials declined to provide any financial estimates, which they say would tip off potential bidders and hurt the process.

The savings is expected to be sufficient to pay for the new system, in addition to allowing more money for the charities.

“We feel pretty confident in our number crunching or we wouldn't do this,” said Leah Cooper Boggs, director of the Division of Licensing and Compliance in the Department of Charitable Gaming.

Boggs said that competition among manufacturers largely would remain the same, and that manufacturers selected by the state could still subcontract with other manufacturers for certain games, if desired.

“We're not taking away the competitive process,” she said. Manufacturers are “still going to want to compete with each other because one manufacturer is still going to want to outsell another manufacturer. The only way they can do that is by putting the games in the market and taking out the games that they don't sell anymore just like they do now. That is not going to change.”

Boggs said competition would be removed from the distribution system.

Lackey said “ideally” there would be two distributors in the state, compared with 23 now.

“I think we need more information,” said Robert Castagna, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, the public policy arm for the four Roman Catholic dioceses in Kentucky.

He said a meeting is set for this week between the department and the finance officers of the dioceses.

Castagna said his first reaction was positive, but “I think we need more details.”

Catholic groups, he said, are the single biggest group of licensees in the state.

The other two major entities in the charitable gambling world are volunteer fire departments and veterans groups, Lackey said.

Oliver Barber, an attorney who represents the Catholic Conference, the Kentucky Soccer Association and the Louisville Soccer Association, asked during a meeting of the Charitable Gaming Department's advisory board last week whether the changes could be made without legislative approval. He later said he fears other changes that could be made in the charitable gambling law if it's revisited by legislators.

“I think it's two-thirds great if they can figure out how to do it,” he said after that meeting. He said the plan would be easier to see if the state provided its estimates, but he said he agrees with its estimates of the cost of bad checks and accounting.

Others affiliated with the industry question whether it will work at all. “This sounds too good to be true,” said John Wilson, who represents the Kentucky Charitable Gaming Association on the department's advisory board, which unanimously endorsed the proposal last week.

Kevin Mills, leader of the St. Gabriel Catholic Church bingo, which is conducted in Jeffersontown, said that he also questions whether the plan will work because he believes manufacturers will be able to get a better price through the bidding than they would by ongoing competition in the current system.

“What they're basically doing is ruining all the competition, and … there's nothing anybody can do about it,” Mills said.

Reporter Gregory A. Hall can be reached at (502) 582-4087.