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State Sues To Stop Legalized Gaming

By Charles Flowers

TALLAHASSEE - The State of Florida has sued to block a federal order that would legalize gaming on Seminole and Miccosukee reservations.

Immediately after the April 12th announcement by the U.S. Secretary of Interior of new rules that would allow gaming at facilities run by both the Seminoles and Miccosukee Tribe of Florida Indians, the state sued. On April 15, the Seminole Tribe filed a motion to intervene in the state's suit. The motion was unopposed, making the Tribe a party to it.

Gov. Jeb Bush and the six-member Cabinet also signed a resolution opposing the rules presented by the Interior Secretary.

"The Governor and Cabinet do hereby express their opposition to the expansion of gambling in the state of Florida and the legalization of any form of casino gambling," the resolution stated in part.

Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a long-time foe of Indian gaming, accused Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt of overstepping his constitutional authority by trying to mediate between the State of Florida and the Indian tribes. Last July, the Seminole Tribe submitted a proposed compact to the state, and a meeting was held in Orlando with state officials to discuss it. However, the sides could not agree, and Babbitt concluded the negotiations were not proceeding in good faith.

Under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, the Interior Secretary has the authority to mediate in such cases. However, Butterworth claimed the latest rules promulgated by Babbitt were unconstitutional.

"Today, the federal government is poised to do by fiat what casino proponents could not accomplish with multi-million dollar referendum campaigns - namely, force casino gambling down the throats of the people of Florida," Butterworth said.

Tribal Counsel Jim Shore countered, "We don't think the federal government is trying to push anything down anyone's throats."

Instead, by trying to resolve the long-standing conflict, Babbitt was "merely doing his duty under the Constitution," according to Fort Lauderdale attorney Bruce Rogow, who also represents the Tribe.

"As a Constitutional officer, (Babbitt) has to follow the mandate of Congress," Rogow said. The timing was also not surprising, since the so-called Enzi Amendment which tied Babbitt's hands for a year, expired on March 31.

This suit by the state, which was joined by Alabama, could set up another U.S. Supreme Court case - the third in 20 years involving Butterworth and the Seminole Tribe.

The first, Seminole Tribe v. Butterworth, legalized bingo on reservations since it was also being played in churches. Butterworth was Broward County Sheriff when he lost this first critical case involving Tribal gaming. The 1981 victory for the Tribe opened the door to expanded Tribal gaming nation-wide, and dramatically altered the economies of dozens of Indian tribes, including the Seminoles.

In the second case, initiated by the Tribe four years ago to break the impasse with the state, the Supreme Court decided that a tribe could not sue the state, since Florida, like the Seminole Tribe, is sovereign.

"I think this probably will end up in the U.S. Supreme Court," Rogow said, although currently it is before the U.S. Circuit Court for the Northern District of Florida. "If it does, we have plenty of artillery."

Among the strongest arguments, the lawyer said, is a ruling last year by Broward Circuit Judge John Frusciante that the state's own Lottery machines are slot machines under Florida statutes. If the state can operate them, Rogow will argue, then why can't the Tribe?

The state's latest challenge, if the Supreme Court agrees to hear it, could set the limits for state and federal authority to regulate tribal gaming. If past history is any indicator, the legal wrangling could take at least two years, Rogow said.

Meanwhile, Seminole Tribal Chairman James Billie said gaming will continue as usual at the Hollywood, Immokalee and Tampa casinos, and the $2.6 million expansion of the Brighton Seminole Bingo and Gaming facility will go forward as planned.

- The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

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