Troopers raid Native pulltab operation in Barrow

Posted: Wednesday, July 02, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Authorities have raided a pulltab operation owned by the Native Village of Barrow, fueling a long-simmering dispute between the state and village leaders who say they have a federal right to conduct gambling without an Alaska gaming permit.

Alaska State Troopers and a gaming compliance investigator seized 2,500 pounds of pulltabs, a cash register, business records and other items Monday from the tiny wooden building housing the operation. Troopers said the state has received complaints about illegal gambling conducted by the Eskimo tribal group.

Village officials said Tuesday the shutdown is temporary.

''We plan to open right back up in a couple of weeks,'' said gaming manager Mabel Kaleak.

The raid followed a May 21 letter from Attorney General Gregg Renkes to the village that it stop the pulltab operations or face legal action. The investigation is continuing and no charges have been filed, said Richard Svobodny, senior assistant district attorney in Juneau.

The state contends the pulltab operation is illegal because the village has not had a state gaming permit since 1999. It pays no state gaming taxes or fees and it offers prizes exceeding the allowable limit.

Village officials said the issue is one of sovereignty. They said that as a federally-recognized tribe they are exempt from state regulations. Thus they're not required to share profits with the state. Instead, they said, a great chunk of the $100,000 or so in yearly profits helps fund social services, including feeding low-income families.

Authorities pointed out that the Native village doesn't have a federal gaming permit, either. In fact, the village's request for a permit was turned down in the 1990s by the National Indian Gaming Commission, which regulates gaming on federal Indian land.

The village appealed, but last year a federal court judge agreed with the commission that the group doesn't have governmental powers over the land where its held its gambling since 1994. The court allowed for the village to reapply for a permit, but it never did so.

That's because federal gaming laws have recently changed, requiring authorization only for operations offering casino games, said Percy Nusunginya, president of the Village of Barrow. He said that's reason the group has not applied for another state permit.

''Things have changed quite a bit,'' he said. ''We're a federally recognized tribal group exercising our self-determination. That's all we're doing.''

But Svobodny said the village's jurisdiction is not recognized as Indian land, as are Indian reservations in the Lower 48 that operate casinos and other gambling ventures. The gaming commission told state officials in mid-June that the village is out of compliance with federal regulations, according to Svobodny.

The group's claim of self-determination doesn't ''change my view of state law,'' he said.

Nusunginya said the Native group's attorneys are reviewing the matter. There's been no decision whether to pursue a legal challenge.

''We hope to avoid those kinds of things,'' he said. ''We can always talk.''

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