Judge limits tribe’s involvement in gambling lawsuit

By John Hanna
Topeka, Kansas (AP) 10-07

A northeast Kansas tribe will have only limited involvement in a lawsuit challenging the state’s new gambling law, a judge ruled during October.

The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation sought to intervene in the “friendly” lawsuit, filed by Attorney General Paul Morrison to resolve legal questions surrounding the law quickly and permit a more rapid expansion of gambling.

The law permits state-owned casinos in four areas and slot machines at dog and horse tracks. The Potawatomi tribe operates a casino on its reservation north of Topeka, and the state-owned gambling represents potential competition.

Shawnee County District Judge Charles Andrews limited the tribe to filing written, “friend of the court” arguments in the case. If Andrews had allowed the tribe to intervene, its attorneys would have been allowed to argue their points and question witnesses during court hearings.

The ruling prevents the tribe from becoming “an independent player” in the case, said Morrison spokeswoman Ashley Anstaett. Morrison opposed the tribe’s request to intervene.

“We didn’t want them to slow down the case,” Anstaett said. “We were hoping to keep this on a somewhat expedited schedule.”

Andrews scheduled a hearing in the case for Dec. 4.

“We are pleased with the judge’s treatment of the case,” Anstaett said. “He’s demonstrated a commitment to keeping the ball rolling.”

Stephen Robison, a Wichita attorney representing the Potawatomi, was not available for comment and did not return a telephone message.

Under the new law, state-owned casinos will be permitted in Ford, Sumner and Wyandotte counties and either Cherokee or Crawford counties. Slots will be permitted at the now-closed Camptown Greyhound Park north of Pittsburg and The Woodlands dog and horse racing complex in Kansas City.

Backers of expanded gambling hope it eventually will raise $200 million a year for the state. But even with quick resolution of the legal issues, the first new casino isn’t likely to open until at least 2009.

The Kansas Constitution permits a state-owned and operated lottery. In 1994, the state Supreme Court ruled that the term “lottery” is broad enough to include slots and casino games such as blackjack. That means legislators could expand gambling without amending the constitution by making it a part of the lottery.

The Potawatomi and three other northeast Kansas tribes operate casinos under a federal law allowing tribes to have the same gambling permitted in a given state.

Critics, including the Potawatomi, argue the new law violates the constitution because the lottery wouldn’t have enough control over the day-to-day operations of the new gambling to truly own it. Morrison has called it “a close question” and repeated critics’ arguments when he filed his lawsuit in August with the Supreme Court.

His action came at the direction of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a gambling supporter, and put him in the odd position of filing a case he hoped to lose. But if hadn’t attacked the law, there would be no legal controversy for the courts to settle.

The Supreme Court sent the case to district court, saying it was the proper place for the case to have been filed.

The case is State, ex. rel. Paul Morrison v. Kansas Lottery and Ed Van Petten, No. 07-C-001312.

On the Net:

Shawnee County District Court: http://www.shawneecourt.org/

Attorney general’s office: http://www.ksag.org

Potawatomi tribe: http://www.pbpindiantribe.com/

Kansas Lottery: http://www.kslottery.com