Judge: Idaho suit over tribal poker defies compact
Boise • Poker can continue for now at the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s casino in Worley after a federal judge ruled Monday that the state violated a gambling compact in a dispute over a game Idaho says is illegal.
The state sued last month to shut down the tribe’s poker room, saying all forms of poker are banned under Idaho’s Constitution and state law. But tribal representatives argued that Texas Hold ‘Em poker is not considered illegal gambling but a game of skill.
Tribal officials said in court nearly two weeks ago that the game requires players to compete against each other, with no house bank involved.
State officials sought a temporary ban on play, which U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill denied Monday.
The gambling compact between the state and tribe says both sides have 60 days to call for arbitration to settle disputes before they can sue each other, Winmill ruled. Because Idaho filed a lawsuit during the 60-day window, it violated the agreement, the judge said.
"For now, the court will stay the lawsuit because the parties are within the 60-day period in which the compact unambiguously prohibits the state from filing this lawsuit," Winmill wrote in his decision.
Idaho and the tribe have until July 7 to file a report to the court on the status of a solution.
State officials expressed disappointment in the ruling, given the "plain language" of the compact.
"But the State of Idaho remains committed to enforcing the rule of law that limits gambling in tribal casinos to clearly approved games — and poker isn’t one of them," Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter said in a prepared statement.
Tribal attorney Eric Van Orden said the tribe believes it has the legal right to offer poker.
"The court agreed with our interpretation of the gaming compact and reinforced what we’ve been saying all along, that the state jumped the gun and violated the provisions of our agreement when it raced to the courthouse with this unnecessary lawsuit," Van Orden said.
The casino has been a major success for the tribe and has grown considerably since it opened nearly two decades ago. It offers slot machines, bingo and off-track betting. The poker room opened May 2.