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Class II Machines Among Topics at Tribal Gaming Meeting

American Indian tribes that run casinos, and the people they employ, converge on San Diego this week to discuss the fine points of tribal gaming in 2005.

But the federal government has called off a gathering of its own, scuttling plans for a San Diego hearing on new rules for a certain type of video machine.

Such casino games, called Class II machines, look like slot machines, complete with spinning reels. But at their heart they are bingo machines. Players must interact with a machine as if they are marking a bingo card. They also compete with other players, rather than the house.

The National Indian Gaming Commission, an arm of the federal government, had scheduled an April 14 hearing on standards for Class II machines. The meeting would have come the day after an American Indian-gaming industry group closes its convention here.

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The federal commission issued a statement saying it has postponed the hearing “in order to take additional time to further consider the many comments that it has received” on Class II machines.

“We’re not quite ready for a public hearing at this point,” said Shawn Pensoneau, a spokesman for the National Indian Gaming Commission.

Mark Van Norman, the executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association, a Washington, D.C., trade group, said he believes the delay has to do with a lawsuit filed March 17 by California’s Santa Rosa Rancheria and Montana’s Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes. The suit challenges the way the federal government is going about making rules for Class II machines.

Hearing or no hearing, Class II machines will be one of the hot topics at the annual National Indian Gaming Association conference, which is set for April 10-13 at the San Diego Convention Center. The trade group expects 5,000 people at the gathering, which hits San Diego every three years.

Topics scheduled for discussion during the convention include off-reservation gaming and a wealth of topics related to the everyday management of a casino.

Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the retired senator from Colorado, will receive a lifetime achievement award from the group.

Updates on Class II games appear several times on the convention agenda.

Van Norman said Class II machines are most important in places where tribes have no agreements with their state governments allowing conventional slot machines, or Class III games. Those states are Florida, Alabama and Nebraska.

Historically, Class II machines have been important in Oklahoma, though voters there recently opened the door to conventional slots.

In California, tribes have looked at Class II machines as a way to expand their casinos without exceeding state-mandated limits on slot machines. Such limits are spelled out in agreements between individual tribes and the state. Typically the limit is 2,000 slot machines.

But there is a market for more.

In a March 28 research note, Deutsche Bank analysts noted Southern California gaming is “thriving.” Still, the note said, “most casino managers remain frustrated with the current cap of 2,000 Class III machines, with several noting that there is enough demand at peak hours to justify 4,000-5,000 machines.”

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