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Indian Tribal Rules Divide Sparks Controversy In US Casinos

Indian tribes across the US have been successful in opening gaming facilities that cater to gamblers that had been looking for a casino experience. With many states banning casinos, the tribe's were able to carve a place in the market through compacts with these states.

Over the past decade, US states have become more proactive in bringing regulated private casinos to their areas. That has resulted in two different sets of rules for casinos, one for private owners, and another for tribal casinos.

"This is becoming a big problem in states where new casinos have been regulated," said analyst Trevor Thompson. "States such as Florida, New York, and West Virginia, where lawmakers have heavily regulated casino gambling, only to have those regulations ignored by the tribal casinos."

Indian tribes are governed by their own laws on reservation land. That means that in most scenarios, it is up to the tribal law enforcement officers to dictate what state laws are recognized. In the case of the casinos, the biggest divide comes when dealing with the smoking issue.

Many states have banned smoking inside businesses. The smoking bans, however, in most cases, do not apply on tribal land. Indian casinos have become popular for smokers who can light up on the gaming floor in a tribal casino, but not in a private casino in the same state.

"The smoking issue is huge," said Thompson. "In a state like Florida, the Seminole Tribe already operates the largest casino resorts in the state. Then, you throw in that patrons can smoke inside the tribal casinos, and it creates a huge discrepancy between tribal and non-tribal casinos."

Florida, like dozens of other states have done with Indian tribes, has entered into a compact with the Seminoles. The compact gives the Seminoles exclusivity over games such as blackjack and baccarat, and also allows tribal casinos to run around the clock.

Florida legislators are seeking to update the compact when it expires to level the playing field between tribal and non-tribal casinos. Other states will aim to do the same as the US takes a turn towards regulating not only land-based casino gambling, but also Internet gambling.

"As gambling becomes more prevalent, uniformity of the rules at all casinos will become important to maintain a fair competitive balance for casinos," said Thompson. "I think state lawmakers are starting to become more aware of that."

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