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California tribes draw for gambling machine licenses

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A district judge in Oakland denied a temporary restraining order that would have prevented tribes which signed a compact with Gov. Gray Davis from participating in a "draw" for gaming machine licenses.

With this legal obstacle out of the way the draw took place as scheduled May 15th in suburban Sacramento.

The restraining order was requested by the Big Lagoon Rancheria near Eureka. Since the tribe had not signed the state compact, Big Lagoon was not considered eligible to take part in a general drawing for the limited number of machines specified in the state compact.

The draw was administered by the Sides Accountancy Corp. in suburban Sacramento. This firm was a neutral party allowed to dispense licenses under the state compact.

Approximately 60 California tribes signed the compacts with the governor's office and were considered eligible for the drawing. Several other tribes seeking to enter into the compact were not eligible.

Corbie Kump, a spokeswoman for the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, said non-compacted tribes are eligible for machine licenses.

"The draw will be held in rounds. Not all of the machine licenses were handed out in the first round, so tribes that are still negotiating compacts can be eligible in later rounds", Kump said.

She said the exact number of licenses handed out in the first round would not immediately be released to the public, adding it would be up to Sides Accountancy to release exact figures to the state Attorney General?s Office of Gambling Control at some undetermined time in the near future.

There is question over the 19,000 machines in use in tribal casinos before the compact was signed. Tribal leaders argued they should be "grandfathered" into legal existence and not considered as part of the allowable machine licenses available for the draw.

Even discounting the pre-existing machines, the state and the compacted tribes differ on the number of machines allowed under the compact. The governor?s office claims 45,000 machines are eligible for the draw whereas the tribes cite a study by a California legislative analyst who said more than 100,000 machines were eligible.

Michael Lombardi, a tribal gaming consultant, said the big mystery is whether the tribes will conform with the governor's numbers or claim legal right to more machines that the Legislature allowed.

"The potential for uncertainty is there. Unfortunately no one is quite sure if there will be a conflict in the number of licenses allowed or not. We won?t know until the actual numbers (of gaming licenses) are released," Lombardi says.

Hillary McLean, Gov. Davis' deputy press secretary says he reached his conclusion through a specific mathematical equation and believes the legislative analyst used faulty math. She warned of the possible actions by the administration if Sides Accountancy and the tribes do not comply with their figures.

"Gov. Davis has been crystal clear on the number of licenses he's willing to allow. This draw was not conducted under the auspices of the Davis administration and we can only hope that when the actual numbers are turned in to the attorney general's office that the tribes will have done the right thing. If not we'sll take appropriate action."

What that "appropriate action" is most likely to be is specific mediation as required in the gaming compact.

Lombardi says no one is quite sure of the ultimate outcome. "Some people have predicted that there may be no dispute at all. Only the next couple of weeks will tell. Stay tuned."