Federal agents won't seize video slot machines from American Indian gambling casinos - for now, anyway.
Tribes won assurances from the federal government Thursday that agents would not immediately descend on their casinos and seize the machines, a small victory because the tribes failed to block enforcement of a ban to limit their gambling operations.While the states' four U.S. attorneys took the first steps toward seizing the video slot machines, prosecutors said the machines won't be hauled away before a judge's ruling.
"Even then, we are not saying we are seizing machines," said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles. "Anything that may lead to a confrontation is the last option in our arsenal."
About 30 tribes operate 12,000 video slot machines across California, and tribes' lawyers said they were relieved that the slots won't immediately be shut down.
"What we were fearing is that they were going to back their trucks up to the casinos and haul all the machines away (now)," said Glenn M. Feldman, attorney for the Santa Ynez and Morongo Band of Mission Indians in Southern California.
Two dozen tribes had sought restraining orders to block enforcement of Wednesday's deadline for the tribes to join a pact on limited video gambling. U.S. Magistrate Bernard Zimmerman in San Francisco and U.S. District Judge J. Spencer Letts in Los Angeles both denied them Thurs-day.
Gov. Pete Wilson contends the video slots are illegal, and his March 6 agreement with the Pala Band of Mission Indians authorizes a new type of machine, not yet in use, that would allow players to compete with one another rather than against the house.
The deal has been condemned by most of the 30-plus tribes operating the video slot machines. Many argue that they are sovereign and should be allowed to make their own decisions.
Lawyers representing tribes in Los Angeles said they expect to return to court next week for a pretrial conference.