Officials threaten to shut down Indian casinosIn this story:
Web posted at: 11:57 p.m. EDT (0357 GMT)
From Reporter Susan Reed
SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- The government has squared off against 11 California Indian tribes over what the state calls "Las Vegas-style" gambling.
The tribes dispute the charge, and staged a protest march on the federal building here to protest the government's ultimatum.
Federal officials have set a May 1 deadline for the state and tribes to agree on what type of gambling is allowed.
"Years ago the battle was with guns," says Floyd "The Crow" Westerman, a Native American actor. "Today the battle is in the courts."
The tribes have filed a suit claiming, among other things, that shutting down the casinos will cost thousands of jobs.
They also commissioned a commercial which warns the public that "Time is running out. On May 1, state and federal governments plan to close California Indian casinos, forcing casino employees back to welfare and unemployment."
While the tribes staged their march in the north, the root of their problem is in the capital, Sacramento, in the person of Gov. Pete Wilson.
California prohibits Las Vegas-style casino gambling, but the state and tribes disagree over what casino gambling is.
The heart of the issue is an electronic machine that the government claims is a slot machine. The tribes say it is not a slot machine; it has no lever to pull, and money does not pour out into the glad hands of lucky winners.
Still, it looks like a slot machine to the governor's people, and the governor says that's good enough for him.
"We are required to observe the law ," he said, "and, of course, California's constitution contains a provision that prohibits casino gambling."
"We don't agree that it's illegal," says Dale Risling, a Hoopa tribal chief. "We believe our type of gambling is very similar to keno and the lottery."
The tribes say they cannot survive without the machines. Cards and bingo, they say, are not lucrative enough to keep them in business.
"The money is in the machines," says tribe attorney Lester Marston. "If we were to eliminate our electronic gambling and only offer people cards, they wouldn't come."
Although the dispute is heating up, federal officials are reluctant to go in and shut down the casinos, as happened recently in Arizona. What they would prefer is that the state and the tribes work it out amongst themselves.
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