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Montana tribes bet on class II games

5 July 2007

POLSON, Montana -- As reported by the Missoulian: "Peter Fordham stood inside a conference hall at the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes' KwaTaqNuk Resort and talked about the room's renovation into a bingo hall that last week hosted its first public bingo games.

"'There's a demand for it,' said Fordham, the CSKT's principal casino manager. 'This market has definitely shown it's a bingo market.'

"Salish and Kootenai leaders pulled Fordham from the California Indian gaming industry two months ago and hired him to spearhead their foray into Class II gambling - a fallback after the tribes failed to strike a deal with the state of Montana on Class III, or Las Vegas-style, gaming last November.

"Last weekend, the tribes celebrated the grand opening of Gray Wolf Peak Casino 10 minutes north of Missoula. Then came the first tribal bingo games in Polson, farther north on the shores of Flathead Lake, last Wednesday night. As Class II casinos, Gray Wolf and KwaTaqNuk give players a chance to compete in high-tech, cross-country bingo games where jackpots can reach millions of dollars.

"Class II gaming includes traditional, computer, pull tab, instant and other forms of bingo. It does not, however, allow slot, keno or poker machines, blackjack, roulette or other such types of gambling.

"...Montana tribes are at odds with the state, which allows any business with a liquor license to operate Class III machines, including keno and video poker. The state currently permits 18,000 Class III machines to non-Indian business owners, mostly at gas stations and restaurants.

"...On the other hand, there are as few as 1,300 Class III machines on all of Montana's seven large, land-based reservations.

"...Last November, all Class III machines on the Flathead Reservation (including those operated by non-Indian businesses) were disconnected after the tribes reached an impasse with the state on the renewal of their gambling compact.

"...Today, the Salish and Kootenai are placing all bets on Class II gaming."

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