- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - Lawyers for the state of Alabama and a casino-operating Indian tribe sparred Tuesday over whether the state can take the tribe to court over its gambling operations.

The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in Alabama’s appeal after a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by Attorney General Luther Strange against the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The state claimed the tribe was operating slot machines at its three Alabama casinos, which are not allowed without a compact. The tribe maintains that its games are simply electronic versions of bingo and legal under federal law.

Adam Charnes, an attorney for the Poarch Creeks, said the state of Alabama has no jurisdiction on Indian land. He said the National Indian Gaming Commission is the entity that decides whether the machines are bingo games, which are allowed without a compact, or slot machines, which would require one.

U.S. District Court Judge Keith Watkins dismissed the state’s lawsuit last year saying that Alabama has no authority on Indian lands.

Alabama Solicitor General Andrew Brasher argued Tuesday that a section of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act gives states the ability to file civil lawsuits over tribal gaming operations.

Brasher said if states had no avenue to go to court then tribes - absent any federal action - would be free to build towering casinos without ever needing a compact with a state government.

“Why buy the cow if you are getting the milk for free?” Brasher said.

The state has had a long-running legal war over the electronic bingo machines. Operators purport the games play the game of bingo, which is allowed in some locations, while swirling displays mimic the experience of playing a slot machine. The attorney general’s office seized machines from a non-Indian casino on the same day it filed the lawsuit against the Poarch Band.

The attorney general said it was a “fundamental fairness issue” that the state treat Indian and non-Indian casinos the same.

A spokeswoman for the Poarch Band expressed optimism that the tribe would prevail.

“At this time we feel positive about the way oral arguments went today, and will wait for the court’s decision,” spokeswoman Sharon Delmar said.

The tribe operates casinos in Montgomery, Wetumpka and Atmore.

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