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Absentee Shawnee face contempt over games

NORMAN, Okla. ? The Absentee Shawnee Tribe has been accused of operating illegal games and federal prosecutors want the tribe's Thunderbird Entertainment Center manager, Mickey Burk, cited with criminal contempt for continuing to operate the games after a federal judge ordered them halted August 17.

At issue are gambling devices called Red Hot Re-Spin, Buffalo Nickels and other machines similar to the slot machines. The tribe argues these are games of skill, not games of chance.

Oklahoma law allows carnival and amusement games, the tribe's attorney Garry Pitchlynn argued. But the National Indian Gaming Commission does not agree. It directed the casino to stop offering the games last year and stated they were games of chance and therefore illegal in Oklahoma.

Although the Absentee Shawnee Tribe has appealed that decision, there has been no hearing and the casino continued to use the controversial games.

U.S. District Court Judge Wayne Alley was asked in January to enforce the earlier order.

The temporary injunction against the tribe orders that the games be halted until a final decision is made in the tribe's appeal. But by Sept. 4 federal prosecutors were back in court accusing the tribe of violating Alley's Aug. 17 order.

When investigators made an unannounced trip to the casino on Aug. 23, they discovered the games still in use.

Counsel for the tribe said the tribe had been 'tardy' in removing the machines because the casino manager had been ill.

Judge Alley also has been asked to cite the tribe for civil contempt for allegedly replacing some of the controversial gaming devices with ones even more blatant in their violation of the law, saying that they are even more like slot machines than the original ones.

The tribe is waiting for an answer to its appeal to the Oklahoma Gaming Commission.