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Mar 7, 2012 5:46 AM by AP

American Indian tribes cautious on online gambling

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Leaders who run casinos for Indian tribes told regulators and companies on Tuesday that they won't support new laws involving online gambling unless it's clear how tribes nationwide will be affected.

Chairwoman Leslie Lohse of the California Tribal Business Alliance said at the iGaming North America conference that online gambling has cultural and economic implications that shouldn't be brushed off because others are in a hurry to start taking bets.

"What's going to satisfy us? That we really sit down and hammer out the nuts and bolts of this," Lohse said. "Really look at the impacts and not rush to the gold."

Tribal sovereignty, local economic implications and other issues need to be fully addressed before tribes eagerly support Internet gambling laws in California or nationwide, Lohse said.

The comments underscored the fierce competition and divisions between those who might want Internet gambling in some form. The tribes and others, including casino companies, equipment manufacturers and state lotteries, don't want to be hurt or left out if Americans eventually are able to wager on poker or other games at home on computers or on mobile devices.

Gambling revenue at American Indian casinos was $26.7 billion in 2010, according to a report issued Tuesday by industry publication Casino City. That was up slightly from $26.4 billion in 2009, when casinos in the U.S. were battered by the global recession that left many people without the means or willingness to gamble as much.

Sheila Morago, executive director of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, said tribes are still weary from the hit they took during the recession and don't want to further threaten the businesses they've worked to build. Opinions about Internet gambling proposals are widespread and varied because current arrangements that allow for Indian casinos are complex, she said.

"When you take one federal bill and sort of overlay it over 29 state compacts, you're kind of wondering how is this going to work," Morago said. "We can all agree that nobody wants to open up those state compacts."

Many of the top commercial casino companies have pushed for federal legislation that would create one national framework for online gaming and allow states to opt out if they choose.

Jonathan Halkyard, chief financial officer of Caesars Entertainment Corp., urged federal legislation as soon as possible while speaking at the conference on Monday.

Commercial casinos haven't supported a particular bill and talks of an effort by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid haven't produced any publicly circulated drafts or other tangible proposals since late 2010.

Stephen Hart, a lawyer who represents tribes and tribal gambling commissions throughout the West, said tribes in California won't be eager to give up elements of their sovereignty, or exclusive rights to offer casino games.

"One would have to anticipate disagreements," Hart said.

As many as 239 tribes operated 448 gambling businesses in 2010. California accounted for $6.8 billion in gambling revenue, more than one quarter of revenues from American Indian casinos in 2010.

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