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TV Indian Bingo Raising Questions About State Gambling

July 2, 1992

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Telephone technology is giving Oklahomans their first chance to play high- stakes Indian bingo without leaving home, but some officials wonder if the games are legal.

Also, some fear the technique might ultimately allow tribes or even other states to operate lotteries in Oklahoma, which doesn’t have a sweepstakes of its own.

″If it’s legal, they may do it. We’ve got an open market,″ said state Sen. Frank Shurden, who lost an attempt a few years ago to allow Oklahomans to vote on whether the state should run a lottery.

The Pawnee Tribe is using 1-800 and 1-900 telephone numbers to sell bingo cards for the televised games, as well as selling them at Western Union outlets and cigarette shops on Indian territory.

Though the tribe’s first TV bingo game was held Sunday, officials are unsure whether such games are legal.

The question involved is ″whether the gaming is conducted on Indian Country,″ said Tony Hope, chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission, the federal agency that regulates Indian gambling.

″If you play in your living room, presumably you’re not on an Indian reservation,″ Hope said. ″That’s the difficulty in determining the law and determining where the game is played. Since that has never been answered, we will have to plow some new ground.″

Hope said the only other tribe he knows of with any similar game is the Oneida in Wisconsin, ″but several other tribes want to do it. We have asked the tribes that want to do it, the one in Wisconsin and the one in Oklahoma to send us information on what they want or are doing so we can make a determination.″

Bill DeHaas, who works for the management group offering the Pawnee’s TV bingo, said the game has been in development for more than five years and has been studied by numerous lawyers.

DeHaas said the concept is legal because the people at home are not playing simultaneously with what is shown on television. He says they are merely ″playing along″ with a game that was videotaped when it was played earlier on tribal land.

Gary S. Pitchlynn, a lawyer handling gaming negotiations with the state for some tribes, said he has heard of three rough proposals from tribes that want to get involved in TV bingo. ″They are planning eventually to do some lottery activities,″ he said.

The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires states to negotiate with tribes that want to run the same type of gaming already allowed in the state.

Gov. David Walters has said legal research indicates, under the act, Oklahoma also must negotiate with any tribe that wants to run a lottery, which the state does not have.

Bob Nance, the state’s negotiator on Indian gaming, said he has not looked at Indian bingo because a state compact is not required. He said the TV game adds a new dimension.

″They may have hit an area that falls between the cracks,″ Nance said. Nance said he is talking now with one tribe that wants to run a traditional lottery with weekly drawings.

″They’re contemplating some sort of ticket dispenser on Indian Country,″ Nance said. ″I told them we need to know the exact spot.″

That tribe also wants ″eventually to have several tribes go together to have one big lottery,″ Nance said. ″Other tribes that don’t necessarily want to start up with that group are talking about something along the same line.″

So far, no tribe has proposed selling lottery tickets over the telephone, he said.

″If someone did, I guess we would have to cross that bridge and figure it out,″ Nance said. ″It would send us to the books, that’s certain.″

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