August 04, 2020

Indians blockade FBI at casino 750 gambling machines seized at 5 sites in Arizona

FORT McDOWELL INDIAN RESERVATION, Ariz. — Indians in battered pickups and giant earth movers blockaded scores of federal agents inside a casino for eight hours Tuesday to protest statewide raids on reservation gambling.

Agents seized video gambling machines at four other Arizona reservation casinos without opposition. The standoff at this Yavapai Indian reservation ended when officials agreed to temporarily leave the seized machines locked in big truck trailers in the parking lot.

Statewide, the raids yielded about 750 video gambling machines that were said to violate new federal regulations. Indian leaders said the raids would deprive their tribes of desperately needed jobs and millions of dollars for social programs.

At Fort McDowell, outside Scottsdale, Indians converged on the casino as word of the dawn raid spread. They blocked the only road out with their own cars and pickup trucks and the tribe’s heavy equipment.

By noon, more than 100 Indians ringed the parking lot of the casino, advertised as “The Fort,” watching a few FBI agents mill around eight moving vans loaded with more than 300 video machines. A single agent stood on the roof of the one-story, warehouse-like building, an M-16 rifle and binoculars in hand.

Fifty to 100 FBI agents and U.S. marshals were inside, said Pam Gullet, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Linda Akers in Phoenix.

Tribal Chairman Clinton Pattea met at midday with Gov. Fife Symington in a library outside the reservation and the leaders returned to tell those on the blockade of the compromise.

Under its terms, the agents were allowed to leave with the tractor portions of the trucks, leaving the trailers locked in the parking lot with the video machines inside for a 10-day cooling-off period.

About 2 p.m., the protesters, shouting and cheering, moved the cars just far enough to let the truck tractors and agents through.

Symington, who said Ms. Akers had agreed to the compromise, promised to work to speed state unemployment payments to hundreds of Indians put out of work by the raids.

He also promised to negotiate with the Fort McDowell tribe about possible use of the machines within the framework of the federal rules. He indicated those talks wouldn’t include the other tribes whose casinos were raided because they have sued the state over the issue.

Indians on the blockade said they would set up a symbolic encampment at the casino during the cooling-off period, and expected to be joined by members of other tribes.

“We are looking for quite a turnout,” said Gilbert Jones, vice chairman of the tribe and one of those on the blockade.

The casino has brought in $19 million since October, 80 percent of that from the machines, and all badly needed to fund programs for children and the elderly, said Vice Chairman Gilbert Jones, one of those on the blockade.

Jones said the Indians would stay “until we get some assurances that they will try to resolve this, not just come in here on us.”

The raids came one day after the rules went into effect. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 allows casino-style gambling on reservations in states where similar gambling is permitted in some form off the reservation.

Tribes and state officials were supposed to negotiate agreements on certain types of gambling, including, as of this week, video machines.

Arizona officials refused to negotiate and urged the federal government to crack down, and four tribes filed a federal lawsuit earlier this year in an effort to force negotiations.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in several other states, and the rules themselves were challenged in federal court in Washington, D.C., last week by tribes in five states challenging the rules themselves.

There were no raids reported Tuesday in other states, though various tribes are negotiating or in dispute with officials in several states, including North Carolina, New York, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Florida, New Mexico and California.

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