California top gambling cop steps down

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - For the second time this year the state is contending with the resignation of a top gaming official.

Harlan Goodson, who heads the California Department of Justice's Division of Gambling Control announced that he would step down from his post on July 1.

Goodson's announcement comes on the heels of the resignation of John Hensley, who stepped down from his post as chairman of the state Gambling Control Commission last month.

This leaves the state with two vacancies atop each of the state's regulatory and enforcement entities. The creation in August 2000 of the state Gambling Control Commission caused confusion as to what the respective roles of the two entities were. Tribes derided the creation of the Commission, which they saw as a duplication of the Division's powers.

The governor appoints the Gambling Control Commission, while the division works for the Attorney General's office. There is speculation by some in Indian country that the tensions between the two entities are manifestations of a political division between Gov. Davis and state Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who though both Democrats, disagree on some issues.

Though some of the jurisdictional issues between the two entities have not even yet been worked out, it has been roughly decided that the Commission would handle the regulatory functions of state gambling and the Division would take control of enforcement.

However, Goodson downplayed the territorial differences between the two entities in press reports and in a San Diego Union Tribune article even called it "much ado about nothing."

While Hensley was seen as a fairly controversial figure, Goodson had a fairly solid relationship with tribes and was widely liked in Indian country.

"(Goodson) worked in a really tough environment, but he's made such great progress and worked so well in gaming matters with not just tribal casinos, but also with the card rooms," says Olin Jones, the co-director of the Department of Justice's Division of Native American Affairs.

Jones says the reason that Goodson was generally well liked in Indian country was that he was a "big supporter" of tribal self-determination.

Though the Gambling Control Division existed in one form or another in the California Department of Justice for many years, its role was not solidified until a law was passed by the California Legislature in 1998 and began operation under former state Attorney General Dan Lungren that year.

It was not until a year after the establishment of the division that Goodson was named as its chief by current Attorney General Bill Lockyer, whom Goodson worked for since his days as an Assemblyman in the California Legislature.

Goodson is credited with building the nascent division practically from scratch. Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, says his boss has not yet named a successor.

"We're very sad to see Harlan go, he's worked long and hard to help create the Division of Gambling Control; the AG (Attorney General) is looking now at finding a suitable successor."