Indian Gaming : the Montana stalemate

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


In 1988, a series of lawsuits between the tribes and the states culminated in the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) in Congress. The law divides gambling into three classes: Class I games consist of traditional Indian games. Class II consists of games such as bingo and card games not played against the house. Class III games are the typical Vegas-style games, including slots, roulette, craps, and blackjack. Only Class III gaming requires that the tribes to enter into a compact with the state. Indian gaming in Montana is currently at a stalemate. The state is unwilling to allow tribes to expand their casinos to include Class III, Vegas-style gaming which would provide funding for basic tribal programs as well as supplement existing programs. According IGRA, tribes must either make a compact with the state or be content with Class II games only. IGRA states that should the state fail to negotiate their Class III compacts in good faith, the tribes have the right to sue the state. The state, however, is able to assert their Eleventh Amendment right of sovereign immunity and stop the lawsuit. The controversy over Indian gaming and the law has played out in the court system, the media, and state courts. Through interviews with tribal councilmen and attorneys across the reservations in Montana, I have concluded that Montana has not negotiated in good faith and has ignored tribal sovereign rights. As sovereign nations, the tribes should not have to negotiate with the state. Montana Indian reservations should join forces to bring a case before the state and federal government and sue for fairer Class III gaming compacts for each reservation.




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