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Idaho v. Coeur D'Alene Tribe

United States District Court, D. Idaho

September 5, 2014

STATE OF IDAHO, a sovereign State of the United States, Plaintiff,
v.
COEUR D'ALENE TRIBE, a federally recognized Indian tribe, Defendant

Page 752

For State of Idaho, a sovereign State of the United States, Plaintiff: Clay R Smith, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL, Boise, ID; Tim A Davis, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of the Attorney General State of ID, Boise, ID.

For Coeur d'Alene Tribe, a federally recognized Indian tribe, Defendant: F Michael Willis, Joseph H Webster, LEAD ATTORNEYS, PRO HAC VICE, Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker, LLP, Washington, DC; Howard A Funke, Kinzo Heath Mihara, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Howard Funke & Associates, PC, Coeur d'Alene, ID.

For Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, Amicus: Bruce Didesch, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Crowell Law Offices-Tribal Advocacy Group, Spokane, WA; Scott D Crowell, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Crowell Law Offices-Tribal Advocacy Group, Sedona, AZ; William F Bacon, LEAD ATTORNEY, SHOSHONE-BANNOCK TRIBES, Pocatello, ID.

Page 753

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

B. Lynn Winmill, Chief United States District Judge.

I

INTRODUCTION

The Court has before it Defendant Coeur d'Alene Tribe's Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 15) and Plaintiff the State of Idaho's Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and for a Preliminary Injunction (Dkts. 3, 4). The Court previously stayed this lawsuit based on the Tribe's argument that the parties had agreed to arbitrate this dispute. See June 23, 2014 Order, Dkt. 35. Afterward, the Tribe changed its mind and decided it would prefer to litigate. The Court will therefore address the pending motions.[1] For the reasons expressed below, the Court will deny the Tribe's motion to dismiss and grant the State's motion for injunctive relief.

II

BACKGROUND

In early May 2014, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe began conducting Texas Hold 'em tournaments at the Coeur d'Alene Casino. Texas Hold 'em is a poker game. Idaho has expressly prohibited all forms of gambling other than: (1) a state lottery; (2)

Page 754

pari-mutuel betting on horse, dog, and mule races; and (3) certain bingo and raffle games.

Shortly after the Tribe began conducting the tournaments, the State sued the Tribe in this Court, seeking to enjoin the tournaments. The State contends that poker is a prohibited form of gambling in Idaho and, further, that the Tribe is violating the parties' Class III Gaming Compact by conducting the poker tournaments. The Tribe, however, says that (1) Texas Hold 'em does not fit Idaho's definition of " gambling," (2) the parties' Compact does not address Texas Hold 'em; and (3) this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over this dispute.

III

THE MOTION TO DISMISS

In moving to dismiss, the Tribe invokes tribal sovereign immunity. " Tribal sovereign immunity protects Indian tribes from suit absent express authorization by Congress or clear waiver by the tribe." Cook v. AVI Casino Enters., Inc., 548 F.3d 718, 725 (9th Cir. 2008). The State says Congress authorized this lawsuit in 25 U.S.C. § 2710(d)(7)(A)(ii). This section states that federal district courts have jurisdiction over a lawsuit initiated by a state or an Indian tribe to " enjoin [1] a class III gaming activity located on Indian lands and [2] conducted in violation of any Tribal-State compact . . . ." 25 U.S.C. § 2710(d)(7)(A)(ii). The Tribe acknowledges that this statute could potentially abrogate sovereign immunity, but contends that neither criterion is met here. That is, the Tribe says (1) Texas Hold 'em is not a Class III gaming activity, and (2) the Tribe is not violating the Compact by conducting the Texas Hold 'em tournaments. The Court disagrees on both points.

A. Texas Hold 'em is a Class III Game

Texas Hold 'em is a Class III game as that term is defined in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

1. Classification of Indian Gaming Under IGRA

Congress passed IGRA in 1988 to provide a statutory basis for operating and regulating gaming conducted by Indian tribes. See 25 U.S.C. § 2702. The Act divides gaming on Indian lands into three classes - I, II, and III - and provides a different regulatory scheme for each class.

Class I gaming " means social games solely for prizes of minimal value or traditional forms of Indian gaming engaged in by individuals as a part of, or in connection with, tribal ceremonies or celebrations," 25 U.S.C. § 2703(6), and is left by the Act to " the exclusive jurisdiction of the Indian tribes . . . ." § 2710(a)(1).

Class II gaming is defined to include bingo, games similar to bingo, and -- relevant to this case -- certain " card games." 25 U.S.C. § 2703(7)(A)(i) and (ii). Class II card games are defined as being either (i) card games " explicitly authorized by the laws of the State" or (ii) card games that " are not explicitly prohibited by the laws of the State and are played at any location in the State, but only if such card games are played in conformity with those laws and regulations (if any) of the State regarding hours or periods of operation of such card games or limitations on wagers or pot sizes in such card games." 25 U.S.C. § 2703(7)(A)(ii)(I) to (II). Banking card games, electronic games of chance, and slot machines are expressly excluded from the scope of class II gaming. § 2703(7)(B). Regulation of class II gaming contemplates a federal role, but places primary emphasis on tribal self-regulation. See § 2710(b).

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Class III gaming is a catch-all category. It is defined to include " all forms of gaming that are not class I gaming or class II gaming." § 2703(8). It is the most heavily regulated of the three classes. The Act provides that class III gaming is lawful only if these gaming activities are:

(1) authorized by an ordinance or resolution that (a) is adopted by the governing body of the Indian tribe, (b) satisfies certain statutorily prescribed requirements, and (c) is approved by the Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission,
(2) " located in a State that permits such gaming for any purpose by any person, organization, or entity, and"
(3) " conducted in conformance with a Tribal-State compact entered into by the Indian tribe and the State . . . ."

§ 2710(d)(1)(A)-(C).

Because Class III is a residual definition, the first step to determine whether any particular game is a Class III game is to ask whether the game is a Class I or II game. Nobody is arguing that Texas Hold 'em is a Class I game, so the question becomes whether Texas Hold 'em is a Class II game. That question raises a series of sub-questions:

(1) Is Texas Hold 'em a card game that is explicitly authorized by the State of Idaho?
(2) Is Texas Hold 'em explicitly prohibited by the laws of the State of Idaho?
(3) If Texas Hold 'em is not explicitly prohibited, is the game " played at any location in the State" in conformity with any State laws and regulations regarding " hours or period of operations . . . or limitations on wagers or pot sizes . . . ."

See 25 U.S.C. § 2703(7)(A)(ii)(I)-(II). The Court will address each question in turn.

2. Idaho's Gambling Laws

The first and second questions task the Court with determining whether Idaho has either " explicitly authorized" or " explicitly prohibited" Texas Hold 'em. This is a question of law to the extent that the Court is simply determining the meaning of relevant Idaho statutory and constitutional provisions or if it is applying the law to a set of undisputed facts.[2] See United States v. DiCristina, 726 F.3d 92, 105 (2d Cir. 2013) (" whether poker constitutes gambling under the IGBA [Illegal Gambling Business Act] is purely a question of statutory interpretation, and therefore raises only a question of law" ); Ramadan v. Gonzales, 479 F.3d 646, 648 (9th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (a " question of law" includes an issue of statutory construction as well as the application of law to undisputed facts).

This Court concludes that Idaho law explicitly prohibits a person from playing Texas Hold 'em for money or any other thing of value.

Idaho's constitution strictly prohibits all forms of gambling, with just three specific exceptions: (1) a state lottery, (2) pari-mutuel betting, and (3) certain bingo and raffle ...


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